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Hoops report: Season saved! (for now)

frankie troy

Auburn 68, Virginia 67; Troy 81, Auburn 77

Well, like the old saying goes, die by the last-second putback against a bottom-rung ACC team, live by the last-second putback against a bottom-rung ACC team.

The cynic might point out that after Brendon Knox’s putback with 1.4 seconds remaining beat the visiting Cavaliers last night, Auburn is a furious last-minute rally against Niagara and Knox’s shot away from being a miserable 3-6 with three home defeats. But the cynic would be ignoring that Knox’s shot is nothing but what went around against N.C. State coming around, and that the bottom line is that in what essentially amounted to a must-win game against the best team Auburn’s faced since the Wolf Pack, Jeff Lebo’s Tigers turned in the best offensive performance (given the competition) of the season so far and got the job done.

Of course, the reason the Virginia game was a must-win in the first place was that hideous loss to Troy the Friday before. Auburn has shown a variety of methods of losing already this season, but this one was new: force a whopping 23 turnovers, dominate the boards (more on this in a sec), record 19 assists to 10 turnovers … and somehow allow the Trojans to shoot 52 percent on their 25 3-point shots while shooting 8-for-31 themselves. Lebo must feel like he’s a cartoon character trying to plug a leaky boat: every time out he manages to get something plugged, only for the boat to spring a leak in a different spot.

That three-point defense now has to be Lebo’s biggest concern going forward: the Cavs hit 9-of-22 (41 percent), and combined with Auburn forcing just 9 turnovers, it’s kind of amazing the Tigers held the visitors to just 1.02 points-per-possession … which isn’t good, but could be worse. How’d it happen? The Tigers held the Cavs to 16-of-36 shooting (47 percent) inside the arc–that’s not good offensively, for the record–and gave Virginia nothing on the offensive glass.

Even mroe encouraging was that Auburn’s offense racked up 1.10 points-per-possession, easily their best outing of the season given the opponent. DeWayne Reed and Lucas Hargrove busted out of their shooting slumps by hitting a combined 12-of-23, Tay Waller and Frankie Sullivan did their thing (22 points on 13 total shots … not bad, guys, not bad), Knox went 5-of-5 from the floor (if only 1-of-7 from the stripe), and got all over the offensive glass, rebounding 11 their 28 missed shots.

That’s four straight games Auburn has owned the boards, two straight games Reed has appeared to be out of his season-long funk, three straight that Waller has been at least semi-productive (or better) since his return … there’s reason to be at least kind of encouraged here even after the Troy loss. If you look at Auburn’s schedule, since the hands-down worst outing of the year against Central Florida the Tigers have

1. pounded a decent IUPUI team
2. lost by 2 to a 6-1 N.C. State team that looks better than expected
3. crushed two bottom-end foes the way they ought to have been crushed
4. lost by 4 to a Troy team shooting out of their minds
5. defeated an ACC team

The Troy loss stings, no doubt, and probably removes the last bit of hope Auburn might have had of going to the NCAAs without winning the SEC Tournament. But the overall graph of Auburn’s performance heading into Thursday’s roadie at Florida St.–the biggest test of Auburn’s season-to-date–is at least on the upswing. The hopes that Lebo can engineer a similar post-New Year’s run to last year’s aren’t exactly strong–the ’08-’09  bunch didn’t have any loss as bad as the Central Florida debacle–but they’re still there. Thursday, I think, will tell us a lot.

Bonus statistical note regarding rebounding

If you’ve never been told to completely ignore any and all references to “rebounding margin,” well, now’s your time: please completely ignore any and all references to “rebounding margin.”

Games like the Troy-Auburn game are why. According to the box score, Troy finished +3 on the boards. But this ignores the fact that the Trojans shot the lights out while Auburn threw up a ton of bricks–meaning Auburn had far fewer opportunities at easier-to-grab defensive boards than Troy did.

Specifically, Auburn missed 45 shots and rebounded 16 of them–so they rebounded 35 percent of their own misses. The Trojans, meanwhile, missed just 25 shots and rebounded only 7 of them–just 28 percent. Auburn was better both at rebounding their own misses and keeping Troy off their own offensive glass … but Troy still ended up with more rebounds, just because of the wild shooting disaparity.

So, like I said: “rebounding margin”? Worthless.

Other assorted observations

— Don’t mean to be too hard on him, but holy crap was Lucas Hargrove bad against Troy. 4-of-16? 1-of-8 from three? At home? Yeeeeeeesh. No one else was particularly good, but no one else was particularly bad, either–it was Hargrove’s performance that took Auburn’s offense from “not necessarily good” to “downright bad, considering we’re talking about Troy” (.96 PPP, for the record).

— Free throw woes and all, Auburn’s gotta get Knox the ball more. Dude is shooting 73 percent for the year and has hit 21 of his last 27. Too bad that’s a span of six games.

— Auburn’s an ugly 134th in the current all-seeing KenPom ratings, but at least they have nicer things to say about the Tigers’ schedule than you might expect: the UCF and Troy losses are as big a downer as you’d expect, but at least both Missouri St. and N.C. State are in the top 70.

Lady Tigers 63, George Washington 42

Not much to see here: Auburn held what appears to be a pretty terrible team to four first-half field goals and won without any kind of drama. Worth noting KeKe Carrier’s continued strong play, however: 7-of-9 from the floor and 3-of-5 from the line for 17 points. With no other Lady Tiger shooting well at all from the floor (even against GW), it seems safe to say Auburn’s going to need Carrier big-time come SEC play.

Photo by Van Emst.

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