Saturday, March 14, 2009
Sometimes the bear eats you
With right around four minutes left, Tennessee was leading Auburn by 8 after a Tay Waller three. With the shot clock winding down, the Vols fed the ball to Tyler Smith at the left elbow. Rasheem Barrett was inside his shirt. Smith took a dribble across the lane, tried to spot up, and was denied by Barrett. He spun, leapt, in mid-air switched the ball from his right hand to his left, and as he came back down flung the ball at the basket. It hit nothing but net.
That was the kind of day it was today for Auburn. Their offense wasn't spectacular, but it was decent--one shot under the 33 percent mark from 3, 21-of-37 from inside the arc (57 percent), even a 13-of-19 performance at the free throw line. With Auburn's usual defensive performance, it's good enough to win.
But Auburn did not have their usual defensive performance. In fact, their defensive performance, at least statistically, was outright disastrous. The Vols--who for the season have shot 31 percent from 3--finished 9-of-19 for 47 percent. From the field overall, they shot 34-of-59 for 57 percent. On those 25 missed shots, Tennessee collected 13 offensive rebounds--or more than half of all their possible offensive rebounds. Combine fantastic shooting with dominance on the boards, and what do you get? 94 points. If the Vols hadn't turned the ball over 19 times, they would have cracked 100 with ease.
Of course, Auburn's defense had more than a little to do with those 19 turnovers. Some of the Vol explosion was due to slow rotations on three-point shooters (particularly in the first half), or missed assignments inside, or just poor perimeter defense. But some of it, too, was shots like Smith's with four minutes left, where the Vols had to make a tremendous play to score and did. And they did that many, many times. Full kudos to them: they were better today, and they deserved to play tomorrow.
As for Auburn, the bubble updates can stop now. A team that is 2-4 against the top 50 and 6-10 against the top 100 and earned only one of those six wins on the is not going to given admittance to the NCAA Tournament this season. Here's to hoping this team can overcome this disappointment and go on a long run in the NIT: they should have the chance to remind us that instead of being disappointed they failed to make the NCAAs, we should celebrate that this motley-looking bunch defied every expectation and ever came within a game of the tournament in the first place.
More--including a wrap of Championship Week from the mid-major perspective and the JCCW's annual bracketology stab--coming tomorrow.