Embarrassing. That is the word used by auburn's coach Barbee to describe his feelings following their 6 game losing streak leading into this game. I can't think of a better way to describe our offense.
I was worried about this game coming in. Auburn was due for a win, and you knew they would be fired up. It seemed like the perfect storm, their coach's harsh words, huge rivalry game, at home, and on a National Signing Day. While auburn is a bad team, they are capable of playing good at times. They took Illinois down to the wire on the road, took Arkansas to double overtime in Fayetteville, and played Ole Miss down to the buzzer. I never imagined they would beat us in this fashion though. If anything, I thought they would get off to a great start and our comeback would fall short.
Instead, we shut them out for the first seven minutes of the game. Unfortunately, we were only able to build a 9-0 lead during that time. When you shut a team down like that you need to put them away. Instead, we would later have two separate 8 minute stretches without a FG ourselves to let them come back and win easily.
During the first half when we should have built a much larger lead, I thought we were once again way too selective in our shot selection. They were leaving Levi Randolph wide open on the perimeter and he passed up several good shots. I know he was 0-7 from the field, and he continues to play good defense and rebound, but he seems to have lost confidence in his shot. I have no problem with him taking open shots from the perimeter, especially when we have guys under the basket who, in theory, may be able to get a rebound.
Still, at halftime you had to feel relatively good with a 10 point lead despite our best scorer sitting on the bench for most of the half with foul trouble. On the other hand, you knew auburn would score more than 13 points on 3 fgs in the second half.
I knew we were in trouble when Gueye picked up his 4th foul early in the second half. auburn had not been shooting the ball well, and Moussa was effecting them when they tried to go inside. He played good defense on Chubb and hindered their guards and forwards when they tried to drive to the basket.
I am now officially calling out Nick Jacobs. He is supposed to be our "offensive" center, but he's so inconsistent at that end I consider him to be more of a liability at this point. Defensively, at least he is consistent, consistently horrible. One play in my mind sums up Nick Jacobs' defense perfectly: with about 3 minutes to play we were down 9 desperately needing a stop, auburn set up in their half court offense running the clock down. Their 5'11" guard gets by his man on the wing and drives toward the basket. Nick Jacobs is on the opposite block. If he rotates over and provides help side defense, this little guard is going to have to force a shot over him, or try to pass it off to a teammate (and with such little time on the shot clock, if we rotate properly, they aren't likely to get a shot off). Instead, he stands there flat footed and watches the midget get an uncontested layup with 2 seconds remaining on the shot clock.
He is 6'8" 260 lbs, and he has TWO freaking rebounds. Levi and Coop had 7 each. Moussa had 6, playing half as many minutes. Ben Eblen took a lot of heat the last couple of years, and I even said it was like playing with 4 on offense when he was in, but Eblen at least gave his all every time he stepped on the floor. Jacobs, in short spurts, has proven that he has the capability to be a much better player than he is. Frankly, he is soft and lazy. He doesn't extend his arms to catch passes in the post, often resulting in turnovers. He doesn't move his feet to get a body on anybody to block out. I know he doesn't have much of a vertical, but a guy his size should be able to get rebounds without being able to jump out of the gym. Maybe he should watch some old clips of Erwin Dudley to see how it is done. Going into the season, we knew the Center position was a big question mark, and many of us pointed to the continued development of Jacobs as a key to this season. By all reports, he worked hard in the offseason and dropped 15 lbs, which gave us all hope. He's been a huge disappointment, and his body language at times seems to indicate that he doesn't even care. Unless Coach Grant or somebody can figure out a way to light a fire under his ass, this team is going nowhere.
Now, back to our offensive woes, and I don't even know where to start. We have been a better 3 point shooting team this season, but we were not last night. That did not stop us from jacking them up though. After getting stuff and turning it over on the dribble drive a couple of times early in the half, we went 5 straight possessions where we settled for a contested 3 with the shot clock winding down. We ended up 2 of 19 from downtown. Half of our shots in the second half were from behind the arc, I don't understand why we stopped trying to attack the rim. As I have stated before, it hard to come up with a good offensive strategy for this team. We have no offensive post presence (see Nick Jacobs rant above) so our opponents can over extend their defense on our guards. I even understand the slow pace, to some extent, short roster, conserve energy, play good defense to keep it close and try to win in the end, but when you only score 37 points against an average at best defensive team, you aren't beating anybody. I don't know what the answer is, but what we are doing is not working. Last night was a pitiful display, we had no spacing, no ball movement, poor screens (which led to Gueye sitting on the bench most of the game, then being ineffective playing with 4 fouls), we didn't cut with any purpose or intensity, all of our cuts were just light slow jogs from point A to B.
Trying to find a bright spot, Rodney Cooper at least had a good game. His shot seems to be improving. In the grand scheme of things, I'm not sure this is the devastating loss people are making it out to be. The scenarios of us playing our way back into the tournament, going 14-4 and beating Ole Miss and/or Florida were never very realistic. We have too many bad RPI team like auburn on the schedule, and when you figure our style of play results in nearly all of those being close games, we were bound to lose at least one or two along the way that would have the same effect. It just sucks that we lost this particular one that is so important to a lot of people within our fanbase, especially in state. As I stated before, our goal at this point should be to stay in the top 4 of the SEC to try to make a run in the tournament. Right now, we are tied with Mizzou in the loss column with 3 losses for 4th place. There is still a lot to play for.
On a side note, I forgot how frustrating it is to watch these games on TV. We are now 1-3 in games that I have not attended this year, so maybe it's on me for not making the trip. While I thought the commentators were fairly accurate in their analysis, the lack of information was maddening. There would be a whistle away from the ball, off camera, and we get "foul on Alabama." If you aren't going to show the official reporting the foul, at least tell us who it is on. I guess it would kill them to give you the total number of team fouls as well. Speaking of which, the officiating seemed fairly one-sided to me as well, but again, if you are soft on offense and generally try to avoid contact like we did, you won't get the calls, especially on the road.
Up next, the LSU Tigers come to Tuscaloosa for a 7pm tipoff Saturday night. I know we are all frustrated right now, but this is when the team needs us behind them the most. I hope we have a good crowd to help get things back on track.