Aubserver Mailbag 107: Refueled
This week: Basketball bouncing back, Allen Flanigan, scheduling, football's outlook, the QB situation and gas station food options
SF Allen Flanigan (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Everybody has their own personal limit of how long they can drive.
Mine is about four hours, as I rediscovered this week. Covering Auburn basketball on the road is one of my favorite parts about this gig, but it requires a decent amount of driving during conference play. Auburn to Oxford is about a 4.5-hour journey, and on both legs of the trip this week, I found myself needing to stop around the four-hour mark. This limit will probably hold up next week, when Auburn plays at LSU and South Carolina.
There’s only so far you can go before the whole experience turns negative. You need to stop. You need to reset. Get out. Stretch your legs. Grab a snack or something to drink. Get ready for the rest of the journey.
This is probably a bad and forced metaphor — which is something that sportswriters love using — but I feel like Auburn basketball had one of those experiences last week. When the Tigers lost at Georgia, it was their fourth game away from home in their last six. The ugly defeat in Athens forced them to pull over and reset.
Allen Flanigan said the team meeting before last Thursday’s practice was productive. The players talked to each other about communicating better both on and off the floor, from calling out assignments on defense to learning how to take constructive criticism from their teammates without issue. Bruce Pearl noticed the change. There was more leadership and accountability.
The on-court product changed, too. Pearl and his staff made adjustments to what they were doing on offense and defense. Rotations changed. Play calls were tweaked. And when they returned to action against a very talented Arkansas team a few days later, back in front of the friendly confines of a packed Arena, the Tigers looked like a different team. Then they rallied after an early deficit at Ole Miss and nailed down a good win with one of its best second halves of the season.
Auburn basketball looks refueled from where it was a week ago. It has to keep that going, because after Saturday night’s home matchup against Mississippi State, three of the next four are on the road — and none of them are particularly close to the Plains.
This week’s mailbag has a lot to due with refueling, both in terms of the Auburn basketball and football programs and in the literal sense of, well, going to gas stations. Look, when I have a chance to jam an overarching theme into a mailbag, I’m going to do it.
Are we back up?
You may recognize Toomernade from the lead question of last week’s mailbag, when they asked if the sky was falling.
At the time, things looked pretty rough for Auburn basketball. The backcourt wasn’t playing well, and there were common mistakes that were killing the Tigers against teams that they should beat. With Arkansas coming into town a day later, the forecast was not a bright one.
I said after Auburn beat Arkansas at home that it was important not to overreact to just one game — and that’s true with a win or a loss. But if the Tigers could keep up a lot of what they did in order to beat the Razorbacks, that would bode well for the rest of a January that isn’t loaded with elite opponents like February and March.
Well, Auburn kept its turnover rate down at Ole Miss. Wendell Green Jr. made it back-to-back great games running the show after a rough performance in Athens. Allen Flanigan made it three straight games scoring in double figures and looking more aggressive on offense. And Johni Broome continued his excellent run in SEC play. Auburn dominated Ole Miss down low, like it was supposed to do, and the offensive execution was much crisper in an impressive second half barrage of points.
Auburn is done with experimenting with its lineups and schemes. Now it’s time to lock into individual matchups and installing the best game plans to beat specific opponents. The Tigers have the depth and the experience to adapt well, and Pearl and his staff have armed the players with what they’ve needed to succeed in the last two matchups.
So, are the Tigers back up? At 3-1 in SEC play right now, they look like they have as good of a chance as anyone outside the Alabama and Tennessee tier to get a coveted top-four spot in the SEC standings. The Tigers are currently projected to finish third in the SEC, which would be a successful season for this roster. And, if it can keep improving over the next few weeks, Auburn will have a chance to see how it really stacks up against the two elite programs in the league at the moment with two games against both Alabama and Tennessee.
The DNA of this team is still survive-and-advance and grind-it-out, like the 2019-20 team was. If it can play its best basketball by the end of the season — much like that team and the Final Four squad before it — Auburn will be in a good spot to make plenty of noise with this season. Don’t overreact to a home win against a strong team and a road win against a weak team, but definitely be encouraged by the turnaround.
1. Against Ole Miss, it looked like Auburn schemed more heavily towards Flanigan, J Williams, and Broome. It wasn't just those guys had a good night, but there was intent on more set plays to feed them — and more intent overall to get those guys the ball. Is that just my gut, or is Bruce trying to spread the weight away from the guards more?
2. How did Moore hurt his shoulder? The camera didn't really show what lead up to the injury. My first thought was about Kevin Love getting his arm yanked out of socket in the playoffs several years back. Maybe he just fell or something and I didn't see it. Nobody just separates a shoulder randomly.