The Stretch 4: Auburn is rested... but it 'can't afford to be rusty' vs. VT
The Tigers got to have a real Thanksgiving break this year. And they think they put it to good use ahead of a dangerous ACC/SEC matchup.
PF Jaylin Williams (Steven Leonard/Auburn Tigers)
After beating Alabama A&M by 30 last Tuesday night, Auburn got one of the most rare gifts that a college basketball team can get this time of year — a real Thanksgiving break.
Instead of playing or traveling during the sport’s annual Feast Week blowout, the Tigers got Wednesday, Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday off.
“Last time we had off like this was my freshman year, about 30 years ago,” power forward Jaylin Williams joked Tuesday afternoon.
Since Auburn played its big multi-team event in Brooklyn the week before Thanksgiving, the Tigers will have had an eight-day gap between the Alabama A&M game and when they tip off at home against Virginia Tech late Wednesday night (8:15 p.m. CT on ESPN2) in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge.
While Auburn had a long layoff, Virginia Tech will be coming off of having to play three games in four days in Orlando. The 5-2 Hokies (KenPom No. 66) beat a pair of strong opponents in Boise State (No. 86) and Iowa State (No. 27) before a lopsided loss to a Florida Atlantic team (No. 21) that just brought everybody back from a Final Four run.
Bruce Pearl said Tuesday he thought the break came at a great time and that he “really liked” being able to watch a lot of basketball over the weekend. But he knows what the natural counterargument is to an in-season break like that:
“I don't think we'll be... I hope we're not rusty,” Pearl said. “We can't afford to be rusty, because they're so sharp.”
The hot topic of “Rest vs. Rust” has been around in sports for a long time. Is it more beneficial to keep playing or get some extra time off? While there doesn’t seem to be statistical evidence for either side in professional basketball, the debate has taken on some new life with the recently tweaked playoff format in baseball.
But if Auburn had any rust from the three days off from practice, Pearl and his staff have tried hard to knock it all off.
The Tigers returned to the floor Saturday morning before the Iron Bowl to start what would be the first of three straight “pretty hard” practices. Williams said the work was so intense that he wished Auburn would have had to play a game instead.
"You don't want to spend too much time off your legs, because Virginia Tech just played three games in four days,” center Dylan Cardwell said Tuesday. “They'll come in here sharp. Maybe a little fatigued, but they'll come in here sharp. We just need to make sure that having off, not playing for a week before we play Virginia Tech, we need to be on our Ps and Qs.”
Virginia Tech, which stayed tight with FAU until the game was blown open in the second half, is going to be a matchup that demands sharpness from Auburn.
It will also be the last chance for the Tigers to play at home before the university lets out for Christmas, which should give Wednesday night in the Arena a marquee-game feel.
“I’m blessed to be in my last year to (play) at home,” Williams said. “Hopefully we represent the SEC by getting a dub and competing at the highest level for bracket stuff — and letting everybody know that we’re here and we’re a great team. Auburn is going to be great this year.”
For more on what the Tigers will be facing Wednesday against the Hokies, along with some notes on Auburn’s defense and a couple of players who have stood out early this season, here’s the latest edition of The Stretch 4.
(Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
Scouting ‘a really, really dangerous’ Virginia Tech
When the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge matchups were announced this summer, many Auburn fans might have been disappointed with drawing Virginia Tech. Some wanted a Final Four rematch with Virginia or maybe a showdown against one of the traditional Tobacco Road powerhouses.
But Pearl and his staff knew the Tigers had gotten a quality early-season game against a team that will be fighting for an NCAA Tournament berth again.