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What's missing? Guard play seems to be the issue


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What's missing for the Auburn Tigers? Guard play seems to be the issue

Lance Dawe
5-6 minutes

Auburn basketball is currently at heights it hasn't seen in a very long time. The Tigers won the regular season SEC title outright for the first time since the 1998-99 season. They're the winningest SEC program over the last five seasons Jabari Smith was named SEC Freshman of the Year. Walker Kessler was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year. Both should be first round draft picks here in a couple of months. And on top of that, Bruce Pearl is SEC Coach of the Year.

However, morale is down. Some fans are starting to get disgruntled. Auburn finished the season (along with the SEC Tournament) 5-4 in their final nine games, struggling mightily on the road. Now, their shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is gone, and the expectations for the team are beating them down. Auburn will be a No. 2 seed, and will likely be a trendy upset pick early in March Madness.

What's been going wrong for the Tigers?

It's all started with guard play. Auburn's front court duo of Walker Kessler and Jabari Smith has been dynamic on both ends of the floor, and has truly carried the Tigers when they've needed help down the stretch. The backcourt was firing on all cylinders early in the year until the Missouri game, a game in which the Tigers had their worst offensive performance of the season.

Since then, guards Wendell Green, Zep Jasper, and KD Johnson have been struggling to get their individual games going, and the team has really suffered. Blown leads in games Auburn either should have won or had a legitimate chance in. Turnovers when the offense had opportunities. Slow half-court possessions resulting in poor shot selections late.

Some of the issues Green, Jasper, and Johnson have revolve around how Bruce Pearl operates his offense. Part of Pearl's offensive philosophy is letting his players have freedom in the offense. Early shots, iso ball, and decisions that other coaches would deem unwise or inefficient. Pearl wants his players to enjoy playing the game, and letting them have more say in the offense makes the game more engaging for them.

During his last few seasons at Auburn, Pearl has had the personnel to make this style of offense play very well. The Tigers have had quick shooters that play with high pace and intensity. It's what fueled the Final Four run the Tigers had in 2019. Auburn's shooters caught fire at the right time with Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, and Chuma Okeke knocking down threes at an incredible rate.

This season, the Tigers appeared to have similar personnel at the start of the season. Wendell Green was hitting shots from the logo. KD Johnson also had an outside shot, but was extremely aggressive when it came to getting to the rim as well. Zep Jasper was the calming force, bringing a relaxing presence to the offense when it needed it.

Now, as we've entered the postseason, things seem to be going differently. What happened?

Since the Missouri game, teams have been aggressively attacking Auburn's guards in the half court offense. You can watch how Texas A&M hedged Auburn's screens in the SEC Tournament in order to prevent the offense from getting into rhythm.

The offense has progressively become more and more stagnant, and if it wasn't for Jabari Smith's heroics late in the season, Auburn would really be struggling as a team.

Bottom line, Auburn needs Green and KD Johnson to step up when it comes to getting downhill or winning isolated matchups. That's what made the 2019 team special. Jared Harper and Bryce Brown could shoot out of aggressive pressure, and it made the offense deadly. The defense would leave easy cuts or ally oops to the basket on Flex action when teams overcommitted, or an open three if the defense slacked off to commit to a roll.

Wendell Green was performing at an extremely high level for the first half of the season because of his ability to win isolation matchups or get downhill. The pick and roll game with Walker Kessler was almost unstoppable throughout the entire non-conference slate. In the last dozen games or so his production has slightly dropped off, but still, his season-long impact for the Tigers has been tremendous.

Green has an SEC-leading plus-minus of +208. The next closest player is Oscar Tshiebwe at +155.

Notice KD Johnson is also in the top five. The Tigers desperately need more production out of their two primary guards in the NCAA Tournament. Guard play is what fuels championship teams.

If teams are going to commit to guarding Walker Kessler and Jabari Smith like they have recently, Johnson and Green have to shoot better.

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Man somebody told the board this MONTHS ago.....I know everybody appreciates being able to come to a board and can read so much about their team.....

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  • WarTiger changed the title to What's missing? Guard play seems to be the issue
2 hours ago, cole256 said:

Man somebody told the board this MONTHS ago.....I know everybody appreciates being able to come to a board and can read so much about their team.....

You're welcome 😉

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I would like to see Zep be alittle more agressive too. He can't just be 1 way player. He can hit shots. And the guards need to rebound as well.

Edited by Randman5000
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