It’s Auburn-Georgia: The Basketball Edition from Auburn Arena.
Auburn and Georgia do not have much of a Men’s Basketball rivalry, the animosity that is shared on the Gridiron really has not translated over into other sports outside of Equestrian. As institutions, Auburn University and the University of Georgia could not be any more different and the commonalities that exist are merely a border, a presence in Atlanta and a few coaches with UGA and Auburn degrees coaching in Football at the rival institution for a period of time. The differences between the institutions make the rivalry special rather than the few points of common ground. The “safety school” trope really does not exist anymore, if anything, High School students in Atlanta are leaving the state for cash rather than failure to be admitted. In Men’s Basketball, Auburn and UGA are traveling partners that get to face each other twice in a season, which means that both programs need each other to play well in order to have a better NCAA Tournament resume.
Bruce Pearl has a team that emulates his 2005-06 Tennessee Team
Bruce Pearl inherited a very talented team from Buzz Peterson when he arrived in Knoxville, but the team was very undersized. Without Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, Auburn is undersized and needs to rely upon scrappier play. This is when Bruce Pearl coached teams perform best. Pearl does not thrive when he has the best talent, the evidence of this came in later years at Tennessee and even last season. Pearl is at his best when he has guys who can shoot and scrappy undersized guys in the post who will fight for him.
Tennessee’s 2005-06 Team
Pearl has a core nine that he’ll play and the roster roles are quite similar between the 2005-06 Tennessee Team and this 2017-18 Auburn Team.
- Bryce Brown: He’s the Chris Lofton of the team.
- Jared Harper: He’s the C.J. Watson of the team.
- Anfernee McLemore: He’s the Major Wingate of the team.
- Desean Murray: He’s the Dane Bradshaw of the team.
- Horace Spencer: He’s the Andre Patterson of the team.
- Mustapha Heron: He’s the JaJuan Smith of the team.
The parallels between the teams is frightening. Even the adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency figures are quite similar. Auburn plays a little bit faster than Tennessee, but the shot clock is 30 seconds in 2017-18 and that has sped up the game a little more.
One of the big differences between the 2017-18 Auburn Basketball Team from the 2005-06 Tennessee Basketball Team is the lack of reliance upon the Modified Flex Offense. Tennessee under Bruce Pearl was far more likely to use the Dr. Tom Davis style of the Flex Offense to free up Chris Lofton and give Major Wingate opportunities. Auburn under Bruce Pearl plays closer to a Dribble Drive Motion than the Flex Offense that many became accustomed when watching Pearl’s teams.
Auburn presses, but they only play nine deep (not by choice, Purifoy and Wiley are not eligible to play) and they are also prone to fouling. Their defensive aggression and choice to press depends upon whether there is a made shot and their foul situation.
Auburn is a team that derives momentum from forcing live ball turnovers, getting into transition and getting second chance points. Auburn wants to run and score as fast as possible, they are not afraid to kick it out to Jared Harper, Bryce Brown or Chuma Okeke from three point range. Chuma Okeke is dangerous from the top of the key.
Auburn puts opponents at the Free Throw Line just as often as they visit and this is a key flaw. What is the path to victory against Auburn?
- Turn Auburn into a jump shooting team. Let them take a lot of three point shots and make sure to contest them.
- Do not worry about the pace of play. Slowing down Auburn does not make them play better or worse.
- Keep Auburn off the Free Throw Line.
- Get to the Free Throw Line frequently and force their Frontcourt into Foul Trouble early.
- Break the press and attack it, do not pull back. Attack the press to get to the Free Throw Line.
- Remember that Jared Harper does everything off the dribble, he will not score his points off an assist.
- Dare Anfernee McLemore and Mustapha Heron to shoot threes. Sag on them and be ready to rebound and push it right back at them.
- Use size and length to your advantage. Auburn had trouble with Alabama’s far superior size and length on the floor, it resulted in struggles on the glass and it kept the Tigers from getting to the Charity Stripe.
Georgia Could Not Be Any More Different
While Auburn is fast-paced, Georgia is trying to do their best impression of Virginia. Georgia is a defensively oriented team that is content to play at an extremely slow pace. The offense is contrived and the sets are easy to figure out. Georgia does not handle pressure defenses very well, but were able to survive against LSU.
For all of the hype and paranoia that Bruce Pearl brings to the UGA base, Mark Fox actually has a winning record (6-4) against Pearl in his tenure at Georgia. Fox’s Dawgs swept Auburn last season, including a win where the Auburn faithful booed Georgia off the floor and T.J. Dunans decided he would rather be a Dawg toward the very end.
Of course, Pearl’s presence is liked less by Alabama fans and some of them make it clear that it has nothing to do with Auburn. They are also not exactly shy about their thoughts on related subjects either.
Back to Georgia Basketball, the offense has struggled in the past four games. Georgia has sported a True Shooting Percentage below 50% during this stretch, but still beat Alabama and LSU. Georgia’s performance in the Second Half against Alabama started a horrible offensive trend that came to an end in some way in the Second Half of the LSU game. Can this effort carry over much like the way the poor effort from the Alabama game did? It would require an aggressive approach that does not require sets nor forces the players to run the sets in the prescribed fashion.
Georgia has been adept at getting to the Free Throw Line this season, but when the team’s FTA/FGA is better than their opponent, the team almost always wins.
This success has been challenged in the SEC slate as officials have swallowed their whistles at times and the Georgia Offense has been less aggressive against conference opponents.
Georgia does not force live ball turnovers, this is a very conservative defense that is geared toward forcing bad shots and one-and-out possessions. Georgia does not get into foul trouble often either, which means that opponents are unlikely to beat Georgia at the FTA/FGA ratio. Georgia’s ability to get second chance points, deny second chance points and get to the Free Throw Line are absolutely critical. It’s a matter of how aggressive the team is going to play.
Georgia does not have an offense that generates inside-out shooting opportunities or adequate ball rotation. Movement without the ball is minimal unless it is a part of one of the sets.
How does Georgia challenge Auburn?
- Size and Length: Georgia is a tall and long team that can disrupt Auburn’s shots and cause trouble on the glass.
- Fouling: Georgia does not commit fouls, but Auburn does. Auburn’s depth will be tested while Georgia can continue playing bully ball in the paint.
- Defense into Offense: Juwan Parker can have a big game on the glass and set up transition points.
What to Expect
Teshaun Hightower is the right matchup for Jared Harper. Hightower was able to contain Tremont Waters. Jordan Harris is the better matchup to face Bryce Brown and hold him to a poor shooting night. Georgia’s Frontcourt should be able to handle the aggressive, yet undersized Auburn Frontcourt.
A tight Georgia performance could take place, but as long as Hightower is running the Point Guard spot, he will break things and that is a good thing. Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide could have big games, but they need to learn from their experience against South Carolina and Ole Miss on the glass. Nicolas Claxton could give Auburn fits and Rayshaun Hammonds will likely thrive with the faster pace of play.
Desean Murray is the most important player on the floor for Auburn, if Hammonds and Parker can keep him down, it is going to be a good evening for the Dawgs. Bring red streamer paper.
Prediction: Auburn 74 Georgia 71 (cough cough flip the score around… these predictions are a kiss of death)
And now translated from English to Pashto to Bulgarian to Armenian to Swahili to English. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s the painfully honest “Eagle of War”.
The warplane grows in the area,
When you succeed, you will never get it.
Soldiers, mercenary and honest.
Fight with orange and blue
Go up and go
Successfully, get bribes.
Give them hell, give them hell,
Go to seven.
Eagle Battle, Success in Aberurn,