Sunday, March 08, 2009
War Damn Eagle, Auburn basketball
The big picture piece on this remarkable team will have to come after the game tonight--you can't really try to sum things up in the calm when the storm hasn't passed yet.
But I can say this: beating a Pat Summitt team absolutely raw once is hard enough. Doing it twice? A joke. But they did it. Yes, Tennessee was on the banged-up side and playing a third game in three days (particularly against a team that loves to push as much as Auburn does) is a little tougher than two in two days. Still: Tennessee. Pat Summitt. At the SEC Tournament. And Auburn came out in the second half and shredded them. Nothing left but orange confetti.
They did it the same way they've been doing it all year: shooting. Pure, pure shooting. It's funny, you wouldn't expect a 29-2 team to have a weakness as simple as "rebounding," but, uh, giving up exactly as many offensive rebounds as you grab defensive rebounds isn't so great. Auburn didn't have quite their usual advantage in turnover margin, either (though -2 is obviously preferable to the +1 from the Ole Miss game).
But when you have a point guard as ruthless in transition as Boddie, a "power forward" with as sweet a stroke and as much range as Bonner, a redemptive 6-of-11 day from Sherell Hobbs, and a box score showing 5-of-9 from 3 and 23-of-27 (!) from the free throw line ... well, you wind up winning by 20 even when you get pounded on the boards.
We should also take a moment to praise this team's defense: no real defensive post presence to speak of, as we know, and they hold the Vols to 26 percent from the field in the second half. I wasn't kind to Sherell Hobbs or Trevesha Jackson after the Ole Miss game (and not without reason), but both after that game and throughout this season, I haven't made as much of their contributions on the defensive end as I should have. After 26 percent in the second half? Mea culpa, ladies.
And so the Tigers are a win away from becoming double-champions of the SEC, from entering the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed, from further cementing their place as one of the best basketball teams in Auburn's history. Standing in their way is a team they haven't beaten in 14 tries. No time to end that little streak, as they say, like the present.
We can say this with certainty now: the Auburn men are an NCAA Tournament team. At least, in terms of quality. In terms of what 34 at-large teams would have the best chance of winning a game or two in the four-letter tournament, Auburn would be one of them. There's no doubt any more of that--I mean, hell, after beating the absolute snot out of the alleged best team in the SEC and with the alleged second-best team having just lost at home to the team Auburn just beat on the road ... I mean, I think it's perfectly sensible to call Auburn the best team in the SEC right now.
But the 34 at-large teams aren't chosen based on who might win games in the future--they're chosen (as they should be) based on who's already won games in the past, and Auburn very, very likely won't have won enough of those. (I'll break down the Bubble vis a vis Auburn's chances tomorrow, but safe to say when Northwestern has more RPI top 50 wins than Auburn has against the top 100, I'm not optimistic.)
But here's the good news--in Tampa Auburn will have as good a chance to prove they're that NCAA Tournament team as they could ask for. They'll be on a neutral court. No team in their way will be any better than they are--LSU? Tennessee? Florida? No, no, no. Auburn may not win the SEC Tournament. But if they don't, it will be because they didn't play as well as they could have, not because the other team was better.
So while I don't blame Jeff Lebo for stumping for his team--certainly, Auburn's outright dismissal by the likes of Lunardi and Palm was, uh, less than justified--I'm more than a little bothered that the bubble griping has obscured the fact that Auburn's chances for an NCAA Tournament bid are better than ever. It's just an automatic bid, rather than an at-large one.
Three games in Tampa: win them all, Auburn, and all the doubt and talk and bitterness are gone, nothing but hot air and memory.
Other assorted thoughts:
--What's kind of scary for the rest of the SEC is that from an offensive standpoint, Auburn didn't even play all that great a game against LSU. 2-of-16 from 3? A return to form at the stripe, where Auburn went 15-of-23? Waller, Robertson, and Hargrove all in single digits? If the Tigers had been their better offensive selves, this would have been a 30-point whitewash.
--Vot Barber has officially graduated to full-on beastdom. 17 boards? 16 points? Only a game after that ridiculous outing in Coleman? This, folks, is what a senior and good player taking it to another level looks like.
--LSU's points-per-possession? .76!!! Yes, that deserves three exclamation points. According to BBState.com, that's tied for the 10th-lowest number in SEC play this season ... and 1) 5 of those first nine performances involved Georgia 2) that's .17 worse than any other SEC performance by LSU this season. In other words: this was a flat phenomenal defensive effort.
--What's with Sullivan getting only 5 minutes one game after his terrific outing in Tuscaloosa? Oh well.
--Congratulations, seniors. Keep it going.