Back to the Backboards
Auburn basketball's need to reload its offense is well-documented. But the portal push has also highlighted another problem area.
HC Bruce Pearl (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Pretty much every single loss feels like a tough one for a team — especially a team like the 2022-23 Auburn men’s basketball Tigers, who had well over half of their 13 losses come by single digits, including five by a single possession.
And three of the Tigers’ final four losses of the season were particularly brutal because of a common theme across each of them.
It started at Rupp Arena, where Auburn went from a competitive, back-and-forth start against Kentucky to a 32-point rout that served as one of the biggest losses of the Bruce Pearl era.
Less than two weeks later, the Tigers suffered a first-round exit in the SEC Tournament at the hands of Arkansas, which took the lead on a tough midrange jumper inside the final minute and won by three.
And nine days after that, Auburn’s season came to an end in crushing fashion in Birmingham, when Houston dominated the second half to win by 17 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
What did those three losses all have in common? They were Auburn’s worst defensive rebounding performances of the season by percentage. Kentucky grabbed 48% of its own misses in the rout. Arkansas had exactly 50%. And Houston was at 44.7%.
Auburn finished the 2022-23 season with its opponents collecting offensive rebounds on 32.4% of its misses, which ranked No. 323 out of 363 teams in Division I basketball. In the SEC, only an 11-21 South Carolina team and an undersized Missouri team that was do-or-die with its pressure on defense were worse than the Tigers.
For Auburn, it was the worst opponent offensive rebounding percentage for an entire season since — oddly enough — the 2018-19 campaign that ended with a trip to the Final Four.
But those small-ball Tigers were able to overcome a lot of their weaknesses on the defensive glass by forcing turnovers (No. 2 nationally) and racing out to hit high rates of 3-pointers on the other end. Last season, Auburn was 122nd in defensive turnover rate and shot just 31.5% from deep, ranking 305th nationally.
The vast majority of Auburn fans have focused their offseason attention on how the Tigers are going to reload an offense that struggled with consistency and posted the lowest efficiency numbers for the program since Pearl’s first two years on the job.
Auburn has already been hard at work at addressing those needs. FIU transfer Denver Jones is a rare 20 PPG scorer who can attack defenses at all three levels and is as comfortable creating off the dribble as he is with catching-and-shooting. And incoming freshman guard Aden Holloway looks the part of an instant-impact offensive weapon, particularly with his shooting ability.
That work isn’t done, either, as Auburn continues to push for more talent in the transfer portal.
But it’s also clear that the Tigers have made a big emphasis on solving that other major problem from last season — rebounding, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.