Aubserver Mailbag 155: Let's rank the final 2/3 of Auburn basketball's SEC slate
This week: 3-point attempts, lineups, narratives, Nike balls, guard play, Walker White, Major Applewhite and legacy sports media
(Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers)
Welcome back to The Aubserver Mailbag. (Don’t worry, the podcast is coming later today. We just had to record super late on Thursday night, and Painter has a real job.)
We’ve hit the point in the winter where the vast majority of the mailbag’s attention — and what we do at this here newsletter-and-podcast company — is squarely on Auburn men’s basketball.
Football still has a defensive coordinator to hire and a staff to finalize before spring practices, but this is hoops’ time to dominate the spotlight. After all, this is still a top-10 team that is close to top-five in a lot of metrics, even with the loss earlier this week.
To that point, we’ve got a whole lot of ground to cover after Auburn’s tough trip to Alabama and before the Mississippi State visit on Saturday. We’ve got one Auburn football question in this mailbag, but the rest is all about Bruce Pearl’s Tigers.
Please rank the remaining basketball games from most difficult to least difficult. Include in your analysis team strength, game location, game sequence and anything else you think matters.
at Tennessee (Feb. 28): This is at the top by a long shot. Tennessee is the toughest team Auburn will face all season, according to pretty much every metric. Thompson-Boling Arena is an NBA-sized venue that gets absolutely wild for big games. We’ll see what the line will be for the Mississippi State game Saturday, but this is the only other time Auburn is projected to be an underdog.
at Mississippi State (Saturday): You could argue that two of the three toughest SEC games Auburn will play all year happened this week. Mississippi State has a bruising, physical frontcourt and one of the best team defenses in the country. It’s a different type of challenge than Alabama, but it’s still a sizable one.
at Florida (Feb. 10): Auburn, historically, doesn’t do well in road games in Gainesville. Additionally, the Gators have looked pretty good at home so far — wins over Arkansas and Mississippi State, along with a narrow loss to Kentucky. This is a really good offense that makes the most off of its second chances, which could be an issue for the Tigers.
vs. Alabama (Feb. 7): I debated swapping this one and the Florida trip, but I ultimately landed on the rematch at No. 4. Auburn plays better basketball at home, and Alabama has struggled against quality competition away from home. If the Tigers shoot and take care of the ball more like they usually do in Neville, they should be able to get their revenge. But it won’t be easy.
vs. Mississippi State (March 2): This game comes just three days after the trip to Tennessee, which is another brutal pairing of games. I question a team’s ability to win at Auburn if it’s not great on offense — the Bulldogs aren’t strong shooters and have had turnover issues — but the strengths of Mississippi State should carry over on the road. This is a sneaky tough game, for sure.
vs. Kentucky (Feb. 17): Kentucky has a bigger gap between its offense (excellent) and defense (suspect) than Alabama. The ‘Cats have already lost twice away from home in SEC play and nearly took a third one at Florida. Kentucky has so many weapons, but I wonder how tough it’ll hang in what should be an insane Saturday environment at Neville Arena.
at Georgia (Feb. 24): Auburn will get extra time to prepare for the Bulldogs this time, as this comes immediately after the lone mid-week break in the schedule. The Tigers will probably need it, as the Bulldogs have been quite feisty in a Year 2. And I don’t have to remind you that Auburn lost in Athens last season.
at Ole Miss (Feb. 3): Will Ole Miss put up a better fight at home than it did on the road? Probably. The Rebels have been able to defend The Pavilion well this season, and I’m sure they’ll have some adjustments after what happened to them in Neville in Round 1. But I still have a ton of doubts about this team’s ability to hang with tournament-caliber opponents.
vs. Georgia (March 9): The regular-season finale could have some real stakes. Georgia would love to play spoiler to a traditional rival, if it gets to that point. Auburn will be coming off a long trip to Missouri, too. This one will have a lot of angles to it, even for a game in which Auburn is currently projected to win by 14.
vs. South Carolina (Feb. 14): This is a gritty, balanced South Carolina team that doesn’t do anything exceptionally well — but it’s an experienced squad that plays a smart brand of basketball. South Carolina’s 4-2 start in SEC play has grabbed my attention, and this one could look even tougher in a few weeks.
at Missouri (March 5): Yeah, I wasn’t banking on Missouri to be this bad right now. The Tigers have lost nine of their last 10 games, with the only win coming over Central Arkansas. The good news is that Missouri has only lost to top-70 opponents in that stretch. The bad news is that it still has issues on defense and is nowhere near the offensive force it was a season ago.
vs. Vanderbilt (Jan. 31): Vanderbilt will be coming off of a game against Tennessee, and Auburn will be at home, sweet home following a challenging week on the road. The Commodores still have weapons, but that first matchup with Auburn shouldn’t have been as close as the 15-point margin indicated.
Why did we shoot so many threes last night?
Let’s dive headfirst into The Discourse™, because I saw a lot of it after Auburn’s loss to Alabama.