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Hoops Report: Observations, I guess

Tennessee 81, Auburn 55

Look, there’s not really anything to say about the wide-angle picture of last night’s game, is there? Tennessee’s top players are way more talented than Auburn’s top players and their role players are way better coached than Auburn’s role players. As soon as the Vols played through their Kansas hangover and the Tigers’ unusually-hot outside shooting cooled off, the game was over. There was never really any way this Auburn team was going to handle that Tennessee team in Thompson-Boling.

So a few scattered observations after getting to see the ’09-’10 Tigers in action for the first time:

— As I’ve said before: Lebo kind of has the right idea with the style he’s asking his team to play. If you’ve got a bunch of racehorses that can’t shoot and can’t score in the post, it makes sense to gamble on defense and attack in transition. You kind of have to. But if Lebo’s been able to explain to this team that that’s what he wants them to do, he hasn’t gotten across how to do it.

Example: just over 12 minutes remaining in the game, Ross comes up with a steal and flips it to Reed. Reed flies across halfcourt but the Vols are in good defensive position; the McBee kid is covering the right side of the lane and there’s a second defender approaching from Reed’s left. If Reed tries to blow by McBee on the right, he risks a charge or getting forced out of the lane, and if he tries to split the defenders by going left there’s a good chance of a turnover. The right move here is to back out and reset the offense. (How badly do I want to put “offense” in scare quotes? Badly.)

This is not what Reed does, of course. He barrels directly at McBee and is naturally stoned a good six feet from the basket; he winds up throwing a crazy, off-balance shotput-style shot at the basket that shouldn’t have any chance of going in. Strangely enough it does, and McBee is even whistled for a foul and a three-point play, so it somehow works out for Auburn … this time.

But that doesn’t mean the decision was the correct one. Repeat that play 10 times, and Reed sinks that shot once. This is what watching this Auburn offense feels like, right? A whole series of decisions and shots that the team and the coach hope will work out, because they might, even though again and again the odds aren’t in their favor.

— Auburn’s most efficient offensive players this season have been Frankie Sullivan and Brandon Knox, so when both of those guys are having the kind of howlers they had last night–Frankie’s my favorite guy on the team (as he is for most of us, I imagine) but 15 shots to score 14 points and just 3 rebounds in 34 minutes isn’t good at all–Auburn’s never, ever going to get anything going on that end of the floor. Knox’s hot streak came to a halt as abrupt as you could possibly imagine: he looked overexcited to go up against Tennessee’s smallish line, I thought, and wound up with 5 turnovers (yikes), 4 fouls, and zero field goals in just 18 minutes.

— Back to Auburn’s execution woes: despite Waller’s reputation as the designated three-point gunner, he’s been converting at a terrific rate when he gets to the basket. Sullivan, meanwhile, has been Auburn’s most productive outside shooter. So what happens last night? Waller never takes a shot inside the arc, not one, as Sullivan shoots a solid 4-of-9 from deep … and 1-of-6 from 2. The team doesn’t seem to understand what it does well.

— Our starting senior point guard finished with a 2-to-4 assist-to-turnover ratio and shot 5-of-15 from the field. At least Hargrove bounced back a little bit from that terrible Carolina performance: 10 points (on 8 shots), 8 boards, 5 assists. Of course, he turned the ball over 4 times, too.

— Defensively … I mean, what do you say? They’re going to get a steal or the opponent’s going to score. 61 percent shooting from the field? In college basketball? That’s horrible, horrible defense for a half, much less an entire game. Sure, Tennessee’s an excellent basketball team, and I don’t want to be excessively harsh. (Thanks to the Vols’ 15 turnovers and only-pretty-good three-point shooting, they averaged “only” 1.17 points per possession, which is dreadful but not the total bottom of the barrel; Sam Houston State scored 1.23 against Auburn, still an absolutely mind-boggling number). But there’s no way to win an SEC game playing defense like that.

The problem? Two things from watching the game:

1. Johnnie Lett’s a decent rebounder, Knox has a decent-to-good post-up game, and Hargrove is an active guy on both ends (he’d make for an excellent role player on a good team, I think) … but they collectively have zero defensive presence in the post. Trivia: how many blocks did Auburn’s primary eight-man rotation have last night? No fair peeking at the box score. Take a guess.

Time’s up: the answer is zero. None. Auburn had a single block the entire game, that coming from Ty Armstrong in garbage time. Goes a long way towards explaining how the Vols shot 24-of-33 (72 percent!) inside the arc.

2. As with the Reed transition issues above, my sense is that Lebo’s asked them to focus so intently on what they do well–steal the ball–they’ve stopped doing anything else. Repeatedly, Auburn players would go after the steal, and after missing, fail to return to anything approaching proper defensive positioning. It’s one thing to gamble and ballhawk. It’s another to gamble and ballhawk with the kind of intensity that leads to giving up 61 percent shooting for the game.

Enough. This game wasn’t worth this much commentary. Though I will add this: at least this year’s uniforms look sweet.

Auburn 74, Alabama 62

As is typical when the Crimson Tide women and Auburn women meet, it wasn’t even as close as that score indicates. The Lady Tigers led by 21 late in the first half and 18 deep in the second.

The good news from this game: Alli Smalley broke out of her slump in style, scoring a career-high 27 points on 10-of-18 shooting and–most importantly–4-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Not that Keke Carrier needed the space; she finished 9-of-11 for 20 points in 26 minutes.

Alabama’s hardly the toughest competition around, especially playing at home–the league’s worst program is now 2-45 in their last 47 SEC games
and haven’t won on the road in nearly four years–but nonetheless Auburn is now .500 in the SEC with one of the two losses a double-overtime defeat on the road. They might be getting healthier, too–10 different players saw floor time. Onwards and upwards.

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