Aubserver Mailbag 105: Ceilings and Floors
This week: A lot on basketball's offense, SEC record picks, Year 1 football success, coaches as Braves closers and movie theater snacks
SF Chris Moore (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
It’s always football season in this part of the country. But right now, here in Auburn, it’s really basketball season.
The non-conference schedule was a warmup to the main event — an 18-game gauntlet through one of the toughest slates you can find anywhere in college basketball.
As Bruce Pearl said Wednesday after Auburn’s grind-it-out win over Florida, the SEC is going to be a rock fight. Just ask Arkansas and Kentucky, or even a Tennessee team that trailed for a good bit of its close win over Ole Miss.
There will always be interest in what’s going on with the football program, and the new staff is still hard at work attacking the transfer portal and the rest of the 2023 recruiting cycle. But Pearl’s Tigers are in the meat of their season now, and I personally appreciate all the basketball questions we get here at The Observer.
This week’s mailbag — the final one of 2022, as weird as that is to type out — takes a closer look at Auburn’s hot-and-cold offense and projects out what it could do in the SEC schedule. We also discuss football recruiting, the big position group to watch moving forward and what a successful Year 1 could look like for Hugh Freeze.
There’s also a comparison of Auburn football head coaches to Atlanta Braves closers, a ranking of movie theater snacks and a two-day local eating itinerary. This is such a fun job.
Thank you so much for supporting The Observer in 2022, and we can’t wait to get into even more stuff with y’all in 2023. Let’s go.
You pointed out in your Florida game review that, as with some other games this year, Auburn’s turnovers went down and offensive execution improved in the second half, when it plays offense in front of its own bench. But don’t we have enough veteran players that the bench location shouldn’t make that much difference — especially at home? What’s going on here?
I’ve heard you and Coach Pearl mention that they play better offensively when they are at CBP’s end of the court. Is that a thing? Just for Auburn or everyone? Are there stats?
Bruce Pearl has talked about playing better on offense in the second half because the players are right in front of its own bench for as long as I’ve covered him. I distinctly remember it being a talking point of his after Auburn’s road win at UAB back in 2016.
And it makes sense. If you’re closer to your coach, he can communicate with you better. The play-calls come in clearer. The adjustments can be made quicker and more frequently. And, on top of that, it takes a lot of effort to play great defense. Fatigue really kicks in during the second halves of games.
It doesn’t matter how veteran your team is, either. Old teams, young teams, talented teams, rebuilding teams — they all experience the same boost in the second half compared to the first.
There’s just more scoring across the board in the second half than in the first half in college basketball. Case in point: There are only 16 teams in Division I that are averaging at least 40 first-half points this season, and 102 teams average at least 35 first-half points. There are 59 teams in Division I that average at least 40 points in the second half, and 247 average at least 35. That’s a significant difference.
It’s just a fundamental thing about basketball. Now, Auburn could definitely stand to be a lot better in the first half, as it ranks No. 191 nationally in scoring before halftime. But you’re almost always going to be better on offense in the second half.
What is the best-case and base-case for AU in SEC play? Clearly there will be some surprise wins and losses, but what can we see in terms of total wins/losses right now?
Were there some key losses on recruiting trail the last couple years that has left such a boring roster without really good guards? It appears AU is going after more top-50 type players, which is great when it works. At Tenn, I seem to recall Bruce doing much better with a lot of players who stayed for 3-4 years, and his last couple seasons never putting complete teams on the floor, as he had more high profile players who didn’t stay long.
KenPom currently projects Auburn to go 11-7 in SEC play, and T-Rank has the exact same conference record for the Tigers.
That feels right, considering there are three teams that look clearly better than Auburn right now — Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas — that the Tigers have to play a combined five times. The teams around Auburn’s range like Kentucky, Missouri and Mississippi State each play Auburn once. And then there are teams like Florida, LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss who aren’t nearly as highly rated as the Tigers but can still be plenty dangerous.
I think the best-case scenario for Auburn in SEC play is to protect home court by either winning all or the vast majority of its games inside the Arena. From there, winning almost half of its road games would put the Tigers at 12-6, 13-5 or even 14-4 in conference play. Take care of business at home and be respectable on the road, and you’ve got a strong record.
The base level will be around that 11-7 projection or lower. I don’t see Auburn finishing with a losing record in conference play, as its defense and rebounding will make the Tigers a tough out most nights. It’ll help not to have to face Missouri’s elite offense on the road, and we’ll see how the Tigers fare in the home-and-home with Alabama. Teams with awesome firepower will be tough for Auburn to beat. Fortunately, I don’t see a ton of those in the SEC at the moment. It’s more of a defensive league.
Now, to answer your second question…