The Stretch 4: Block party, slow start for the freshmen, transition offense and scouting Colgate
The Tigers are swatting shots and looking to get their youngsters going — especially on offense — ahead of another game against another potential league champ.
C Dylan Cardwell (Grayson Belanger/Auburn Athletics)
Heading into the weekend, Auburn is one of just 15 Division I men’s basketball teams that still sport an undefeated record. (There are 363 D-I teams now, by the way.)
And of those 15, according to KenPom, Auburn has played the fourth-toughest schedule so far. Even though the Tigers didn’t have a parade of marquee opponents in their multi-team event like others did during Thanksgiving week, they still have been tested more than most unbeaten.
That’s because Auburn continues to play teams like the Colgate one it’ll face Friday night — experienced, well-regarded and picked at or near the top of their respective conferences
“Getting ready for Colgate, you know, another team that’s picked to win their league,” Bruce Pearl said Thursday afternoon. “They’re ahead of Boston University (in) the Patriot League. Been to the tournament the last couple years, twice in the last couple years. Perennial champions.”
Sound familiar? It should. Of the seven teams Auburn has played so far, four of them are considered serious contenders to win their leagues. And all four of them — Winthrop, Texas Southern, Bradley and Saint Louis — have come within the last five games overall.
Colgate is the runaway favorite in the Patriot League, sitting 60-plus spots ahead of Navy in KenPom and more than 100 ahead of American. The Raiders have been to the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four seasons, losing by just seven points to both Arkansas and Wisconsin in two of those trips.
Instead of playing a bunch of early-season blowout material, Auburn is running through a list of teams it could face in the first weekend of March Madness, hypothetically. Colgate is one of the most experienced teams in the country and starts a lineup of four seniors and one talented true freshman point guard. Matt Langel’s squad has already knocked off Syracuse in the Carrier Dome this season, winning by 12.
“They're going to come in here and be really good at running their stuff and running their plays,” center Dylan Cardwell said. “They're not going to shocked by The Jungle like other teams. They're not going to be taken aback by that.”
That level of opponent is only increasing, too. Auburn plays Memphis in Atlanta next Saturday, and Penny Hardaway’s Tigers look like they might be the best non-Houston team in the AAC. USC is a potential NCAA Tournament team out of the Pac-12. Washington isn’t a pushover, either. The lone home game in that stretch, Georgia State, is in the neighborhood of Winthrop and Texas Southern in terms of quality.
Auburn last played Colgate in 2019, when a team with a makeup similar to the one Pearl has now in 2022 hit a commanding 65.8% of its 2-pointers and drilled 10 triples en route to a 91-62 win. But this will be a different Raiders team coming into the Arena on Friday night.
“The interesting thing will be, having played them before, they know how we guard, and they know the things that we do,” Pearl said. “We’re not going to be changed. we haven’t changed that much since the last time we played them, so it’ll be interesting to see what adjustments they make.”
For more on the undefeated Tigers, the matchup against Colgate and some big-picture questions about the squad at the start of December, here’s the latest edition of The Stretch 4.
C Johni Broome (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Auburn’s big men are throwing an early block party
Here’s a wild chart, courtesy of friend of the newsletter DrewCantHoop on Twitter:
That’s a chart of the top shot-blockers in Division I basketball this season by block percentage — the rate of 2-point field goals attempts that they block when they’re on the floor — and total personal fouls for the season.
The average is somewhere around 3% for block percentage and 14 for personal fouls. The higher the block percentage, the more likely a player has had chances to pick up fouls. Notice the two orange dots to the farthest right of the chart? That’s Johni Broome and Dylan Cardwell.
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