Mississippi State announces the hiring of Zach Arnett as defensive coordinator – Saturday Down South
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If you checked Twitter or Facebook on Saturday, you would have thought that the bottom fell out of Auburn’s basketball program. I will say, getting blown out two games in a row by inferior teams, including your arch rival, is not a great look. But sometimes that’s just basketball, you’re going to have weeks where you struggle. Last year’s squad went 11-7 in conference play before turning it on in February and March.
Basketball is a lot like baseball in the respect that you don’t want to peak too early. If you’re playing your best baseball in June and July, you’re doing it wrong. Same with basketball. If you’ve spent the whole season kicking butt and chewing gum, but then struggle at the end of the season, you won’t make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
It’s odd to think about, but if Auburn was going to pick a time to struggle, now is the perfect time. They have the perspective of starting out 15-0, meaning they can compete with anyone, but this slump will bring to light the issues this team has, and give Bruce and company enough time to adjust and move forward.
With all that being said, let’s take a look at what happened against Alabama and Florida, and try to see if there’s a way to solve these problems!
Game 16 @ Alabama
It always sucks losing to Alabama in anything, but you couldn’t have scripted a better scenario for the Crimson Tide. Your rival coming into town starting off the season 15-0 is all the motivation that sell out airplane hangar needed to get rocking. This was their Super Bowl, plain and simple. Nothing against Bama, they played a lot better than Auburn and deserved to win the game. But there’s no denying that Nate Oates needed to win this game way more than Bruce Pearl.
You know what’s not a recipe for success? Shooting less than 32% from the field and having more turnovers than assists. The team just looked out of sorts from the jump. J’von and Samir looked off and it showed. Samir ended up having more turnovers than points scored. Sadly, these kinds of games are when we need tall of the upperclassmen to step up. The bench and the young guys can bail us out at home if others aren’t on, but we can’t expect that on the road in a hostile environment.
All that being said, one upperclassman did show up, and his name is Austin freaking Wiley. The big man had 10 points and 13 rebounds and it was clear that he couldn’t be stopped. Alabama did a better job in the second half by just packing the paint and forcing Auburn to try and shoot their way out, something this team has struggled to do all year.
Isaac Okoro also had a nice game. The freshman star contributed 13 points with 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks. 12 of those points came in the first half and without Okoro, it’s not really a game in the first half at all. The Tigers just couldn’t adjust in the second half.
Finally, I know Auburn lost by 19 and didn’t play well, but my goodness was the officiating bad on both sides. I’m honestly surprised Bruce Pearl didn’t get tossed from the game, because I know I would have if I was in his situation. Some of the fouls on Wednesday were among the most puzzling I’ve seen. Allen Flanigan get’s trucked by an Alabama big man, but gets called for a travel. Isaac Okoro gets tripped by an Alabama player going for a loose ball, no foul and it was Tide ball. I try to be lenient with the officials but if next time we could an actual NCAA crew, that would be appreciated.
Game 17 @ Florida
My hope was that after the cold shooting game against Alabama, the team would come out firing on all cylinders…that did not happen. In fact, the exact opposite happened, it got worse. After losing by 19 at Alabama, the Tigers laid an absolute egg in Gainesville and lost to the Gators by 22. I’ve watched some ugly Auburn basketball games in my day, most coming in the Tony Barbee era, but this was game is way up there. The Tigers shot sub 26% from the field and 17% from three. It was almost like watching a child playing NBA 2k for the first time and figuring out the controls. This was also the second game in a row where Auburn had more turnovers than assists.
Trying to find any sort of positive outlook on this game was tough. I will say, Auburn shot above 70% from the free throw line as a team. Auburn played nice defense against Florida, holding them to less than 70 points at home. That’s what the Tigers are going to have to hang their hat on until the offense can get turned around.
Thankfully, the next two games are at home for Auburn against South Carolina and Iowa State. This will be a great opportunity to get back in the W column before facing Ole Miss next week in Oxford.
Auburn was soaring to the top of college basketball when it traveled to Coleman Coliseum to take on the Crimson Tide. The Tigers were ranked in the top five and were one of two unbeaten teams in America. There is nothing that Auburn fans love more than to beat Alabama, which Auburn has done fairly regularly since Bruce Pearl came to the Plains.
Last season, the Tigers hammered the Tide in their first meeting with a 21-point win at home before taking it to the Tide by six at Coleman. Auburn’s rise in prominence, coupled with the inability to compete with the in-state Tigers, likely led to Tide coach Avery Johnson being ousted in favor of Nate Oats. Of course, losing in the first round of the NIT as the one seed didn’t help.
If there is anything lifelong Auburn fans know about Auburn, it’s that Auburn will occasionally do the most “Auburn thing.” In this case, Auburn fans feared a white-hot Tide team that averaged 90 points in their last few games, while Auburn hasn’t been as sharp as it could, especially on the road
What followed was simply painful to watch. Auburn never led and only pulled within one point midway through the first half. Bama dropped 43 percent of their shots, something that they always seem to find against Auburn, while the Tigers bricked it up at a 31-percent clip. Neither team shot the long ball well, but it was the departure from what appeared like a sure-thing game plan that was astounding. Going into the game, it seemed the wise thing was for Auburn to slow the pace, feed Austin Wiley inside and wait for open shots on the outside. Instead, the Tigers got behind early and pressed way too hard, chunking up a lot of very bad shots. It didn’t help either that the Tigers committed 21 turnovers to Bama’s 15.
And, so, what felt like the inevitable occurred, and Auburn’s winning streak ended quite brutally.
The Tigers had a chance to learn from the mistake of starting slow on the road as they traveled to Gainesville to take on the Gators. After all, the Tigers couldn’t perform any worse than they had against Bama, right? Wrong!
Auburn was held to 47 points as the Gators piled on a 22-point victory. The Gators shot 50 percent from the floor, including an outstanding 47 percent from long range. Meanwhile, Auburn shot only 25 percent from the floor and 17 percent from distance. It simply defies logic as to how the Tigers could shoot the ball so poorly, yet they did. Just as against Bama, Auburn never led the game and tied it just once. Florida’s defense didn’t produce turnovers. In fact Auburn had only eight to the Gators’ 15, yet it couldn’t get any offensive rhythm going, leading to questions about the ability of point man J’Von McCormick to run the offense. Auburn scoring was led by Danjel Purifoy with 10 points, coming off the bench for the first time this season.
The team was going to lose sometime. But what seems so unbelievable is that it would happen in back-to-back games. Fans went from shocked and concerned to full-on panic following Saturday’s loss.
Sure, there is cause for concern. Auburn simply isn’t playing well. And fans who fell for Auburn’s ascension need to know that this team was never a Top-Five team. It hurts to agree with some of the talking heads who discounted Auburn success before last week, but the fact is that Auburn had yet to play a good team and at times played poorly, relying on physical dominance to win.
Contrary to what some fans think, and a lot of outsiders hope, this isn’t a reason to panic. In fact, it’s exactly what this team needs. Recall that last season’s Final Four team lost 11 games, including three straight SEC losses. Guess what, it was EXACTLY this time last season that the Tigers dropped games to Kentucky, Mississippi State, and South Carolina.
Guess who is up next? South Carolina. Tonight at 6:00 PM on ESPNU, the Tigers come back home to Auburn Arena for a get-right game against the Gamecocks. Carolina is coming off two straight wins, including a shocking win over Kentucky and are led by guard A.J. Lawson. The 6′ 6″ guard does a little bit of everything while averaging almost 14 points a game. However, he isn’t great at any one thing and is especially suspect at the line.
Meanwhile, Auburn’s leading man, Samir Doughty, has been… off. It is unclear if he is playing injured or just struggling to perform on the road. But, it’s certain that Auburn needs him back and in a big way.