The Stretch 4: It really is a make-or-miss game
Auburn will face one of its toughest tests to date in Texas A&M on Wednesday. Can the Tigers shoot their way to more success at home?
SG K.D. Johnson (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
You’ve probably heard the NBA described as “a make-or-miss league.”
The concept is simple — and perhaps a little too elementary. But it’s basically this: After all the scouting, preparation, strategic work that goes into the sport of basketball, wins and losses usually come down to who can just put the ball through the hoop more consistently, particularly on jumpers.
SEC basketball this season, as a whole, is… well, not exactly like that.
According to KenPom, SEC teams are shooting 30.6% from 3-point range in conference games this season. That ranks dead last among all 31 conferences in Division I basketball. The league’s 2-point field goal percentage (48.7%) is just 26th, making the effective field goal percentage sit at 47.6% — only marginally better than the SWAC in that category.
Like the old saying goes in football, it’s all about that SEC defense. The conference has three of the top 10 defenses in the country by adjusted efficiency (Tennessee, Alabama and Auburn) and five of the top 13 (Mississippi State and Florida). Meanwhile, Missouri is the only top 10 offense in the conference, and only two more (Alabama and Kentucky) are in the top 25 nationally.
But, with as rock fight-heavy as SEC basketball might get this season, finding your stroke on any given night can be an X-factor.
Take Texas A&M, for example. The Aggies entered last weekend with an undefeated record in SEC play, having allowed less than 65 points in each of their first five conference wins.
But Kentucky handed Texas A&M its first league loss, winning by a score of 76-67 inside Rupp Arena. During that game, a previously cold-shooting Kentucky team set a season-high in 3-point attempts (32) and hit an amount in the double digits (11) for the first time in a whole month. Texas A&M, meanwhile, went 3-16 from deep.
Texas A&M had 27 fewer points from 3-point land than Kentucky in a game that was decided by nine. And remember that South Carolina, the worst team in the SEC, beat Kentucky in Rupp earlier this month by hitting eight more 3-pointers in a game decided by just three.
Sometimes, SEC basketball can still be a make-or-miss league.
“Look, for us to be able to continue to win, we've gotta make open shots,” Bruce Pearl said Tuesday. “Texas A&M is really hard to score on in the paint. They're hard to score on in the paint, because they rotate bodies, and they're very physical, and they use verticality to their advantage. So you've gotta be able to make some open shots.”
Auburn still isn’t what anyone would call a “good” 3-point shooting team, as it’s still under 30% for the season. However, the Tigers have out-shot their opponents from deep in three of the five games in their current winning streak — including their last two home matchups against Arkansas and Mississippi State.
Last Saturday against South Carolina, Auburn wasn’t able to hit the open looks against the Gamecocks and went 3-17 on 3-pointers. The Tigers were able to adjust, though, by attacking one of the league’s worst interior defenses. That won’t be the case against Texas A&M.
“Big, strong, physical team,” Pearl said of Texas A&M. “One of the best rebounding teams in the country. … So, just like we talked about Mississippi State when they came in, that was going to be a real physical game. This is going to be even more physical.”
For more on Auburn’s big-time home game against Texas A&M on Wednesday night, let’s take a deeper dive into Pearl’s Tigers in this week’s edition of The Stretch 4.
SF Allen Flanigan (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Shooting (yes, shooting) over a stingy A&M defense could be the key
Buzz Williams might still wear three-piece suits on the sidelines — and Pearl says he’s perfectly fine coaching in team gear after 40-plus years of dressing up — but his Texas A&M basketball team is the definition of blue-collar.
In SEC play, Texas A&M is the conference’s No. 2 team in offensive rebounding percentage and the No. 3 team in defensive rebounding percentage. (Potentially getting back physical wing Chris Moore, who has missed the last three games due to a shoulder injury, would be huge. Moore has returned to practice and will be a game-time decision Wednesday night, per Pearl.)
The Aggies’ 2-point field goal percentages on both ends of the floor rank second in the league, too. They play at one of the slower offensive paces in the conference and try to grind teams down with their experience and physicality.
Wade Taylor and Tyrece Radford, returning starters in the backcourt, both average at least a dozen points per game. And the addition of Julius Marble, a transfer from Michigan State, has been a great addition with experienced big man Henry Coleman III.
“They’re giving up, in league play, 30 points a half,” Pearl said. “Sometimes teams go in, and you’ve only scored 30 points at halftime. Well, join the club, because that’s what they give up — which puts a lot of pressure on our defense.
“Now, our defense has been good, has consistently been pretty good. But that’s going to be something that we’re going to have to do a really good job of us guarding them, because we’ll have our challenges scoring.”
If there’s a key to attacking Texas A&M’s defense, it will most likely be hitting 3-pointers. That’s what Kentucky did to beat A&M, and it’s what Auburn did to beat a similarly built Mississippi State team during its last home game.