Vandy's Last Game
Four Commodores scored in double figures Wednesday, including two who posted career-high totals: Jeff Taylor led the way with 23, while George Drake logged yet another impressive performance on his way to a personal best 18 points. Brad Tinsley and Jermaine Beal added 15 and 13, respectively, but all other ‘Dores scored a combined seven points. Three-point shooting is becoming a broken-record type problem for Vanderbilt; the Commodores shot 3-of-13 from beyond the arc, with Tinsley hitting all three.
For once, however, scoring wasn't the problem for the ‘Dores. The team's 22 turnovers led to 25 South Carolina points, 18 of which came in a first half in which Vanderbilt displayed possibly its sloppiest ball handling of the conference season. Six Commodores committed three turnovers, and the team logged only seven assists.
Coach Jeff Lebo's Tigers ride a mini two-game winning streak into Saturday afternoon's contest. Auburn (13-7, 2-3) overcame a 3-4 start to finish its pre-conference schedule with seven straight wins, including a road victory over Virginia. In conference play, the Tigers have scored home wins over Alabama and Arkansas, and they nearly knocked off Florida at home. Both road games, at South Carolina and at Kentucky, resulted in losses.
Despite its undersized roster, Auburn relies on perhaps the league's stingiest defense to win games. The Tigers boast the SEC's top scoring defense, allowing only 61.5 points per game. As with South Carolina, forcing turnovers is the forte of the Auburn defense; the team leads the SEC with 10.0 steals per game and is top ten nationally in percentage of opponents' possessions that result in a Tiger steal (14.1 percent), according to Ken Pomeroy.
The loss of Frank Tolbert and Quan Prowell has moved Auburn's offensive focus behind the three-point line. The Tigers are tied for second in the conference in three-pointers, knocking down 7.5 per game. Three-point attempts make up just over 40.0 percent of the team's field goal attempts, but long-range shots make up only 30.2 percent of Auburn's made field goals, as the Tigers convert 32.5 percent of their three-point attempts. Despite the presence of several skilled shooters, Auburn ranks in the bottom ten nationally in free throw percentage, shooting a dismal 59.3 percent from the stripe.
DeWayne Reed – Junior, 6-1, 175 lbs. – After two mediocre offensive seasons at Auburn, Reed has taken his game to another level in his junior year. Leading the team with 14.7 points per game, the combo guard has significantly improved his efficiency from the floor. He's shooting a career-best 40.7 percent, including 35.5 percent from three-point range, where he has drained 38 trifectas. Reed has been a relative bright spot from the free throw line. He is adept at getting into the lane and drawing fouls, and he shoots nearly 70.0 percent on a team littered with horrible free throw shooters. Sharing the mantle of distributor with Quantez Robertson, Reed leads the Tigers with 4.0 per game, and he is Auburn's best perimeter defender and a catalyst of the team's disruptive defense, grabbing 2.1 steals per game.
Korvotney Barber – Senior, 6-7, 225 lbs. – After playing in just ten games last season due to injury, Barber has picked up where he left off, shooting 53.6 percent en route to 12.4 points per game. The bull of a forward makes a living in the paint, where his infinite motor and superior strength make him a force around the basket. Those same attributes also contribute to his rebounding prowess; Barber leads Auburn and ranks fourth in the SEC with 9.1 boards per game. The senior gives the Tigers plenty of second chances on offense, as he leads the conference with 68 offensive rebounds. Though he's a bit undersized for the post, Barber is the Tigers' best interior defender. He refuses to be bullied under the basket and averages a team-high 1.3 blocks per game.
Tay Waller – Junior, 6-2, 180 lbs. – A junior college transfer, Waller is the definition of a "gunner." He ranks second in the SEC with 57 three-pointers, shooting 35.6 percent from beyond the arc. Out of his 204 field goal attempts, 160 have come from three-point range. As is the case with any shooter, Waller is susceptible to the occasional cold streak from long distance, but because he shoots such a high volume of triples, his cold streaks are more detrimental to his team than most. For example, while he pushed his team to a win over ‘Bama by going 6-of-8 from beyond the arc, the junior shot only 1-of-8 on three-pointers in the Tigers' three-point loss to Florida.
Rasheem Barrett – Senior, 6-5, 200 lbs. – After a career-best season as a junior, Barrett has regressed in his senior year. Averaging fewer than ten points per game for the first time in his career (7.4 ppg), he is shooting just 39.5 percent from the floor and 21.1 percent from three-point distance. A decrease in minutes has been partly to blame, but Barrett is also averaging career-lows in rebounds (2.7 per game) and assists (1.0 per game). Despite his struggles, the senior is still capable of having a big game. Just three games ago, he scored 17 on 8-of-15 shooting against Kentucky.
Quantez Robertson – Senior, 6-3, 200 lbs. – Barrett isn't the only Auburn senior whose numbers have dropped. Robertson has seen his production dip across the board in his final season as a Tiger, as well. The point guard is averaging career-lows in points (6.7) and assists (3.7), though like Barrett, he has suffered from a drop in minutes. An increase in depth has allowed Jeff Lebo to rest his starters more often, though the extra breathers haven't shown up in Robertson's efficiency numbers. His 38.7 percent shooting is his worst since his freshman year, and his 24.0 percent from beyond the arc is his lowest as a collegian. He remains a solid perimeter defender, combining with Reed to account for nearly four steals per game.
Junior Lucas Hargrove is Auburn's sixth man. The 6-6 forward is a stat-stuffer for a bench player, averaging 8.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. Capable of playing out on the wing or mixing it up inside, Hargrove joins Barrett as Auburn's only real inside-outside threats.
In the backcourt, 6-1 freshman Frankie Sullivan provides backup minutes for Robertson, Reed, and Waller. A three-point threat and a threat off the dribble, Sullivan averages 6.8 points in 18.6 minutes per game.
Forward Johnnie Lett rounds out the Auburn rotation. The 6-8 junior plays strictly around the basket and averages 2.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.
Keys to the Game
Turnovers, Again – Vanderbilt put themselves in an early hole by turning the ball over a whopping 15 times in the first half against South Carolina. Like the Gamecocks, Auburn thrives on points off turnovers. They have two capable ball handlers to run the break off of opponents' mistakes and several shooters that can bury a triple in transition. The Tigers' offense is not a particularly potent one; if the Commodores can limit their turnovers, they have the defensive personnel to stifle the Auburn attack.
Get Physical – Even with Ogilvy's nagging health problems and Lance Goulbourne's fresh injury, the Commodores have the size and depth to win the battle in the paint. The Tigers are a miserable free throw shooting team, so the ‘Dores can afford to play aggressive interior defense. Auburn will need to establish some sort of an inside game with Barber in order to open up shooters. If the Vanderbilt big men can hold their own against undersized opponents down low, then the Commodores should be able to keep pressure on the perimeter shooters.
Prediction: Auburn is a similar team to South Carolina, but the Tigers lack the go-to scorers that the Gamecocks boast. Despite the Commodores' struggles lately, if they can limit their turnovers and thus control the tempo, their defense should be able to hold Auburn below 70 points. Whether or not the ‘Dores can shoot well enough to score 70 themselves is another question entirely, but the 46.1 percent from the floor in Columbia was an encouraging sign. Final score: Vanderbilt 65, Auburn 63.