The Stretch 4: Good news and bad news from a sharpshooting scrimmage
An offense-heavy scrimmage highlighted the first full week of basketball practice. Bruce Pearl wasn't entirely sure how to feel about it.
PG Aden Holloway (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
OPELIKA — Like the well-worn saying goes, it’s hard for a head coach to be totally pleased after a scrimmage.
If one area shines, it’s usually at the expense of another. And when you’re playing against yourself, it can be tough to know how excited you can really be.
Such was the case for Bruce Pearl on Saturday, after Auburn basketball went through its first intrasquad scrimmage since officially opening practice last week.
The offensive numbers were encouraging. The Tigers shot 50% from 3-point range and 55% overall from the field. Seven different players scored in double figures, with Johni Broome coming close to adding another with nine points. They had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 19-to-11, too.
“That's the good news,” Pearl said Monday, before the start of his annual Bruce, Barkley and Basketball Golf Classic at Grand National. “The bad news is we did it against ourselves — which means we couldn't guard anybody.
“I don't know whether to be happy because the offense scored, or angry because we didn't make enough defensive plays and didn't show enough speed and athleticism to bother us and bother ourselves.”
Outside of that aspect of the scrimmage, Pearl says he likes where his new-look Tigers are right now at this point in the preseason.
“We've got stuff to do to get ready for the season, but it's been a good start to camp,” Pearl said.
The calendar has flipped to October, and Auburn is officially less than a month away from its opening exhibition against AUM. The Tigers will travel to South Dakota to take on Baylor in their regular-season opener less than a week after that.
Auburn returned to the floor inside Neville Arena on Monday afternoon to start its second week of practice, and it will be there again Tuesday afternoon before an off day Wednesday.
For more on what we’ve gathered about the Tigers from their first few days of practices — along with insight from Pearl at his fundraising golf event with the always-popular Charles Barkley — here is this week’s edition of The Stretch 4.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
The Tigers ‘definitely need more defensive playmakers’
Auburn’s need to upgrade its offense this offseason has been well-documented. The Tigers ranked No. 225 nationally in effective field goal percentage, No. 309 in 3-point shooting and No. 118 in overall points per game.
The offseason additions, particularly high-scoring transfer guard Denver Jones and 5-star point guard Aden Holloway, have given Pearl and the staff more confidence in the Tigers’ ability to shoot it a lot better this upcoming season.
But Auburn still lost arguably its two best on-ball defenders in Zep Jasper and Allen Flanigan. On top of that, Wendell Green Jr. was a solid defender at the point guard spot — especially for his size — and all the newcomers simply haven’t played high-level SEC basketball yet.
When asked about the defense Monday, Pearl praised Jones for working hard on his defense after being such an offensive player at FIU. He also singled out former Division II star Chaney Johnson for his “strong, natural” and “intense” defensive ability, as well as veteran reserve Chris Moore for his consistent effort on that end of the floor.
“But I'd say we need more — we definitely need more — defensive playmakers,” Pearl said.
Defense will be the biggest question facing Auburn basketball this season. The offensive upgrades have stood out early, but they’re largely unproven on the other side of the floor outside of the frontcourt duo of Broome and Jaylin Williams, plus the turnover-forcing chaos of K.D. Johnson off the bench.
And it’s easy to see that’s on the front of Pearl’s mind.
When asked about the point guard competition between Holloway and Tre Donaldson, Pearl noted both of their offensive potential but said “it's the defensive side where they've gotta make progress and show me who can get stops, who can keep their man in front, who can make plays defensively, who makes the other four guys better with their defensive transition.”
Pearl also wants to see more from Broome, who “needs to continue to affect the game at both ends and give multiple efforts on the defensive end.” After a strong debut season in the SEC and a fantastic summer in the NBA Draft process, Broome is being challenged to “play faster and quicker” on the defensive end of the floor.
History suggests Auburn will get it figured out on defense, though. Over the last six seasons, Pearl’s teams have all ranked inside the top 40 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. Auburn’s last two defenses were among the top 15 nationally in effective field goal percentage.
It might just take more time with this new-look roster, as evidenced by the Saturday scrimmage.
PG Tre Donaldson (Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
The offense is letting it fly, but it needs to stay balanced
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