Shooting is one thing. But can Auburn get better bench play away from home again?
As Bruce Pearl likes to say, the Tigers are at their best when everybody contributes. That hasn't been the case in their last three road losses.
PG Wendell Green Jr. (Auburn Athletics)
What is the biggest common theme in Auburn’s last three road losses?
It has nothing to do with defense. Auburn held Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee to fewer than 68 points in regulation in all three of those games. The defense hasn’t been lights-out for all 40 minutes, but it’s been good enough to win.
It isn’t rebounding, either. Auburn’s total rebounding rate against Tennessee was a rough 37.3%, but it was at 57.3% in the loss to Arkansas and 55.6% in the loss at Florida. Saturday’s battering on the boards was, for both sides, an outlier statistically.
Turnovers weren’t the big culprit, either. Auburn turned the ball over on 21.2% of its possessions at Florida, but that number was down to 17.7% at Arkansas and all the way to 13.2% at Tennessee. The Tigers have won several games with a worse turnover rate, including a season-high 24.3% in a victory over LSU.
The obvious answer is offense, particularly shooting. And it’s no secret that Auburn has struggled to efficiently shoot the ball away from home in recent weeks.
However, while the Tigers shot 35.4% from the field at Tennessee, it’s worth noting that it had lower field goal percentages in wins over South Florida and Missouri. (Also, Tennessee shot an even worse 32.8% from the floor and still won.)
Rough shooting away from home is a common theme, yes. But there’s one particular offensive number that stands out the most from Auburn’s three straight losses away from the Plains — bench scoring.
Look at Saturday in Knoxville. Auburn had a season-low five points off the bench, while Tennessee had 19. As Pearl said, it’s “difficult” to win with those kinds of numbers.
“We’re best when everybody contributes and can’t be afraid to fail,” Pearl said. “You’ve got to be able to produce when you’re out there.”
For almost 30 games now, Auburn’s coaches and players have talked constantly about how their depth is their greatest strength.
Rare talents such as Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler can take a team a long way. But being able to manage their minutes effectively and maintain a high level of play when going to the bench are two characteristics that can separate the Tigers from other contenders.
“I mean, that’s the reason we’re so good,” Kessler said after Auburn’s second win over Alabama earlier this month. “Our depth and our ability when the bench comes in, there’s not a drop-off. Everyone’s got their own skills and talents. … We have a bench that comes in and gets stuff done.”
According to CBB Analytics, Auburn is averaging 23.9 bench points per game in conference play. But in the last three SEC losses, the Tigers have averaged just nine bench points per game.