Observations: Auburn basketball's Orange-Blue Scrimmage

Several newcomers put on an offensive show for the fans Friday, but Bruce Pearl got what he wanted with one week to go before the season.

Bruce Pearl said he got what he wanted Friday night.

Some of Pearl’s goals could have been recognized by anyone in Auburn Arena for Auburn basketball’s Orange-Blue scrimmage event. The program took advantage of the increased crowds for a home football weekend, got more fans to watch an improving volleyball team in action and then treated those in attendance to their first look at the 2021-22 team.

Check, check and check. Several of the newcomers shined, particularly on offense, and gave a glimpse of what the Tigers’ could look like at full strength in the upcoming season. They got a game-like 20-minute half of scrimmage action, then two four-minute periods of “good on good” situational work.

But that’s not all Pearl was after. He wanted to teach his revamped roster a lesson.

“I really, truly wanted to show them that, look, we're just OK when we play like that,” Pearl said. “So I got what I wanted. They know the difference. They've seen the difference. Hopefully they'll understand.”

While those on the outside might have been thoroughly entertained by the scrimmage, those inside know that the Tigers are capable of much better — and have shown as much during this preseason.

With that in mind, here are several Observations from Auburn’s Orange-Blue scrimmage. (Sadly, no Nerd Stats or Rotation Charts — Auburn didn’t have any stat tracking for the scrimmage — but they’ll be back soon.)

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Defense and effort level weren’t up to Pearl’s standards

Pearl opened his comments Friday night by stating that his team played much better last week in a closed-door scrimmage against UAB. (He added that he couldn’t give specifics on what happened against the Blazers, but he was much happier with the team’s energy and how they played than he was Friday night.)

When asked for positives, Pearl pointed to a number of offensive performances — ones that we’ll get to later. But he didn’t seem pleased at all with the defense, particularly from guards not named Zep Jasper, and the overall effort level.

“It was sloppy,” Pearl said of the scrimmage. “There wasn’t a lot of purpose to it.”

Auburn’s 20-minute scrimmage half was between an Orange squad that had almost all of the scholarship players and a Blue squad that was mostly made up of walk-ons.

Orange started a lineup of Wendell Green Jr., Zep Jasper, Devan Cambridge, Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler. (KD Johnson, Jaylin Williams and Chris Moore came off the bench for Orange.) Backup centers Dylan Cardwell and Stretch Akingbola rotated between both teams, as the scout team doesn’t have enough size at the 5.

While many would have expected a quick blowout, the Blue team raced out to a 10-1 lead. Pearl was animated during the under-16 timeout with the Orange squad, at one point yelling, “we play next week!” to his first-choice unit.

Auburn’s scout team did a great job of making shots against the starters, particularly new walk-on Michael Whitmore. The sub 6-footer — Pearl joked that Whitmore was probably his listed 5-foot-10 “in stilettos” — hit four of his five 3-pointers, including a banked buzzer-beater to close the half.

Orange constantly switched out the backcourt in the 20-minute half, with Pearl rarely looking pleased with the defense. He made an exception for Jasper, but he demanded more out of the rest of his guards and wings on defense.

“I didn’t think our guards guarded very well tonight and that was a concern, other than Zep,” Pearl said. “I challenged my guards to see other who than Zep is going to guard because they are all capable of it. It is kind of good to get that out of our system.”

As for the effort level, Pearl said that he felt like his team was ready to face opponents other than themselves after a long offseason process.

“I understand — we're ready to play somebody else, and we showed that last week,” Pearl said. “And next week, we've got three games — Southern Indiana on Friday, Morehead State on Tuesday and Louisiana-Monroe next Friday.”

Pearl said he, the staff and the players will all get to watch the film from the scrimmage and correct their errors ahead of the exhibition against Southern Indiana. While Auburn would have wanted to play better Friday night, this stern reminder could be exactly what it needs heading into the final stretch of the preseason.

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