Better Know An Opponent: Auburn

The Gamecocks, coming off a difficult loss in Starkville on Wednesday night, return to the court on Saturday afternoon at 1:30pm to play the Auburn Tigers, who opened their own conference schedule win a win at home against LSU, 68-63.

Auburn struggled in the non-conference portion of its schedule, dropping seven games overall.  While only the game against Winthrop could be thought to be a particularly bad loss, the other games (Murray State, Dayton, BC, Rhode Island, DePaul, and Illinois), the closeness of many of those losses leaves them as the 21st most unlucky team in the Ken Pomeroy rating system.  That said, they do have at least one nice win on the year, a 78-72 home win over Florida State (who’s down this year, it should be noted).

While they don’t have much of a rivalry on the hardwood, it’s safe to say you all do (or should) hate Auburn as much as I do for pretty much everything from the 2010-11 football seasons.  So, the hell with them, and let’s see if we can’t go out and ruin their Saturday afternoon.

Team

All statistics courtesy of the wonderful KenPom.com

Four Factors USC O AU D AU O USC D NCAA
eFG 51.1
(74)
47.0
(131)
47.8
(183)
47.9
(169)
48.3
TO% 25.6
(338)
22.9
(68)
20.7
(176)
19.9
(212)
20.7
Oreb% 44.5
(2)
30.2
(104)
34.9
(90)
31.4
(146)
32.1
FTA/FGA 38.8
(97)
39.0
(245)
36.0
(161)
40.7
(271)
35.5
Shooting USC O AU D AU O USC D NCAA
FTA 69.5
(153)
68.5
(187)
68.9
2PA 50.3
(75)
46.0
(140)
45.7
(223)
48.5
(209)
47.3
3PA 35.3
(97)
34.8
(128)
33.5
3PA% 31.7
(211)
37.9
(309)
31.5
(216)
28.7
(54)
32.9

At bottom, Auburn is simply a better version of Mississippi State – a team that’s not very good on offense but pretty damn decent on defense, the exact converse of South Carolina.

When Carolina has the ball

The Gamecocks off their second-worst offensive performance of the season against State, only scoring 0.79 points/possession (topped only by the catastrophe that was the Elon game, where they went for 0.78).

Much like the game against State, Carolina must worry about turnovers first and foremost in this game.  The Tigers force turnovers on 23% of opponents’ trips down the floor, and create over half of those on steals (13% of possessions, against an NCAA average of 10%).  Offensively, South Carolina is more apt to turn the ball over (26%) and more apt to have the ball stolen (13%, which is 331st in NCAA), which means once again a team that’s adept at taking the ball away will be licking its chops when they see the Gamecocks on film.

Along with steals, Auburn blocks plenty of shots, something Carolina again is weak at offensively (i.e., getting its shots blocked).  Auburn blocks 12% of the 2PAs shot against it, and Carolina has 12% of the 2PAs it shoots blocked.  While the Gamecocks seem to have a slight advantage on scoring inside, most if not all of this can probably be explained away by the drastic SOS differences between the two teams.  It’ll be a battle to get points inside.

Given that, it’ll be interesting to see if Carolina takes more 3PAs than normal this game, as Auburn makes a conscious choice on defense to allow teams the opportunity.  We’ve talked about this before in other contexts, but this may be a game where it’s worth getting your shooters on the floor together (switching Bruce and Eric so that Brenton and Brian can play together for a few minutes at least once) and trying to rain shots from the outside.  It’d be an adjustment in our style of play, but it may be one worth making given our inability to score in the paint last game against increased opposition (40% from 2PA won’t win most nights).

Auburn doesn’t do anything special defensively otherwise, so Carolina can hopefully continue its dominance on the offensive glass, meaning that in possessions that end in shots, there’s a decent chance that possession will give the Gamecocks more than one chance to score the ball.  Auburn also concedes a lot of free throws, something Carolina still does an above-average job of doing (i.e., getting to the line).

All in all, as we’ve covered in rigorous detail here, if the Gamecocks possession ends in something other than a turnover, chances are they’ll put up a solid offensive number.  In fact, turnovers are so pervasive at this point that the Gamecocks points per possession are determine almost as much by its shooting (eFG correlates at 0.66) as its ball-control (turnover percentage correlates at -0.56).  It’s an issue.

When Auburn has the ball

Auburn is by far weaker on offense than they are on defense.  One area in which they particularly struggle is scoring inside, shooting under 46% from that area thus far this season.  This hopefully will help South Carolina, as our defense of the 2PA hasn’t been particularly great all season either.  In these types of games, while it’s more fun to focus on the end of the floor where both teams are good, it’s just as likely the game is determined on the side where both team are poor.

The one thing to watch out for with Auburn will be their above-average nature on the offensive glass.  Otherwise, as a team, both groups are almost totally average in most respects, with Carolina being a little more porous than normal in conceding free throws.

Speaking of 3PA%, Auburn will likely end up taking the opposite approach to Carolina on its end.  As a team who shoots the 3 reasonably well, they don’t shoot it reasonably often, and Carolina has cracked down more and more as the season has gone along when it comes to preventing opponents the opportunity to take 3PAs (nearing the top 50 in preventing that shot).  While the amount of fouling we do on the inside to play 2PA defense is still hurting us, this has been a positive step overall.  Given Auburn’s tentative nature in taking shots from the outside, the focus on that end will be preventing buckets in the paint and keeping them off the line.

Individual

Auburn
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Name
%Min
%Poss
eFG%
OR%
DR%
ARate
TORate
FTM-FTA
2PM-2PA
3PM-3PA
Frankie Sullivan
79.5
28.7
46.6
2.0
12.7
23.9
19.0
60-72
50-103
27-91
Allen Payne
66.8
18.9
47.0
8.0
13.6
12.1
20.5
23-35
40-77
5-24
Rob Chubb
61.6
21.5
50.9
12.9
21.0
4.6
20.3
18-34
56-110
0-0
Josh Wallace
56.3
13.3
31.4
0.7
11.5
24.7
26.3
21-30
12-40
1-3
Noel Johnson
51.4
16.3
50.6
2.3
13.3
4.9
19.8
8-14
7-29
23-53
Shaquille Johnson
44.0
17.5
42.9
7.2
11.4
15.6
20.2
19-28
15-32
6-24
Asauhn Dixon-Tatum
37.0
18.1
48.1
17.1
13.6
4.0
17.0
11-18
26-54
0-0
Jordan Price*
31.4
19.8
61.9
2.5
7.1
13.8
21.6
6-9
8-23
19-36
Brian Greene
24.7
15.4
33.3
1.6
3.3
22.7
24.5
2-6
7-22
2-8
Chris Denson*
23.5
27.7
55.2
6.7
10.3
20.1
17.5
23-33
22-40
3-8
Shareif Adamu*
13.0
20.1
39.3
9.2
9.3
7.7
39.6
5-8
4-10
1-4
South Carolina
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Name
%Min
%Poss
eFG%
OR%
DR%
ARate
TORate
FTM-FTA
2PM-2PA
3PM-3PA
Lakeem Jackson
77.7
18.2
61.3
10.8
16.8
14.5
27.7
7-28
65-105
0-1
Eric Smith
68.4
18.1
38.6
2.2
6.8
27.8
32.5
18-28
23-57
6-26
Mindaugas Kacinas
66.0
16.0
59.0
12.1
12.3
7.7
28.3
23-34
38-59
3-13
Brenton Williams
56.7
20.7
64.2
1.5
7.2
12.1
18.4
41-51
31-52
23-50
Brian Richardson
54.9
20.1
52.3
5.5
11.1
14.5
16.8
20-26
20-50
25-60
RJ Slawson
39.8
18.4
45.0
15.2
13.3
8.3
22.5
23-34
21-45
1-5
LaShay Page*
38.6
23.5
41.9
2.2
13.7
7.5
15.9
27-31
18-48
14-45
Michael Carrera
28.9
27.4
49.1
17.2
26.7
7.8
23.4
29-37
25-55
2-2
Damien Leonard
27.4
19.3
40.4
3.9
14.1
7.2
31.2
7-9
7-20
8-27
Bruce Ellington
23.0
24.6
48.8
1.9
8.9
9.2
36.5
11-17
12-25
5-15
Laimonas Chatkevicius
14.9
23.6
54.8
17.4
15.0
14.2
38.0
4-8
10-19
1-2

*Will not play.

As a first note, you’ll see a lot more people in those statistics than will be on the floor tonight.  You know about Page, but you may not know that Auburn has two players out with injury (Denson and Price) and a third that was dismissed from the team (Adamu, a transfer like Page).

A look at Auburn’s team

Auburn’s offense focuses on Frankie Sullivan,  who has yet to play a game this season where he didn’t use at least 20 percent of the possessions while he was on the floor.  He’s not the best shooter from the field, but he gets to the foul line frequently, and his assist rate also helps his teammates find buckets.  He’ll be the focal point of our defense, but stopping guards (well, really anyone) has not been a strength of this team so far this season.  Hopefully that’s something Bruce can bring to the table, though the last memory of his playing defense from the State game (where he fouled Sword on the drive) isn’t a positive one.

Chubb, Payne and Noel Johnson are the other major contributing starters (all five starters, by the way, are juniors or seniors).  Chubb is a 6’10” senior who will be seen frequently on the offensive and defensive glass, and when he’s replaced by Dixon-Tatum, that 7’0″ junior will do the same.  Chubb brings a decent inside game with him as well, and Kacinas, Slawson, or whoever gets the call down low will have their hands full.

Payne also does a nice job rebounding as an under-sized power forward, a 6’6″ junior who does everything fine but nothing particularly well.  Noel Johnson is a 6’6″ senior but plays higher up in the offense at the three and is Auburn’s main source of 3PAs aside from Sullivan, hitting 43% thus far this season.  We’ve had a lot of shots taken against us in games past (though not as much against State) where a player lost his man in the corner for wide-open 3PAs, and Noel Johnson will make you pay for those mistakes.

The last starter is Josh Wallace, who doesn’t bring much in the way of shooting, but does fine work distributing the ball, assisting on a quarter of the baskets his teammates score while he’s on the floor.  His turnover rate (25%) looks far worse than it is – remember, turnover rate is based on the number of possessions you end, so players that don’t frequently shoot will have an inflated rate.  I’ve never loved the way it’s calculated, as it seems to me it should be based more on how many team possessions you end with a turnover.  Speaking of turnovers, Wallace (along with Payne) will be someone the guards need to eye when we’re on offense, as almost 5% of his defensive possessions result in a steal for him.

Given the player dismissals and injuries, Auburn will be down to an eight-man rotation on Saturday, with Shaquille Johnson, Dixon-Tatum, and Greene being the only players likely to come off the bench.  Auburn has been using its been to cover 35% of its minutes so far this year (against an NCAA average of 31%), so that lack of depth is something they’re not accustomed to (or at least, the non-Frankie Sullivan members of the team are not accustomed to).  Of the starters, Chubb is the most likely to find his way into foul trouble, something that could be important given that he and Dixon-Tatum are the only Auburn’s players over 6’6″ who will log any minutes tomorrow afternoon.

A refresher on the Gamecocks

Right now, it’s hard to know what to expect from this team, given the complete shuffle in minutes that occurred in Starkville the other night.  The only thing we can really be sure of is that Lakeem will likely play significant minutes, as he’s been the one constant in our line-up throughout the year.

Martin may choose to go with Bruce again, though I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the matchup of another team adept at forcing turnovers going against him.  Bruce actually had a pretty solid turnover rate in both 2011 and 2012, so he certainly has the capability to protect the basketball.  But he needs it to be an active capability, not something he’s still working out as he re-adjusts to basketball.

I’m still not sure what happened to Brenton Williams the other evening.  After playing double-digit minutes in every game this season, and over 20 in the last six outings, Martin limited him to only six minutes against State.  Martin said after the game he ended up playing the guys who were on the floor, for whatever reason.  I understand Martin had to be thrilled to finally see us put a good defensive effort together, but part of that was the opponent we were facing, and I think we’ll need more from Brenton Williams going forward if we’re going to have a chance.

That said, this isn’t all on Martin – if Brenton’s not going to be able to justify his minutes on the defensive side, then he’s somewhat forcing Martin’s hand.  But that’s something we need from him.  Damien Leonard seems like he may have passed him in the rotation, and right now, Leonard’s not doing enough for us offensively to feel good about that fact.

The other guy taking his minutes is Brian Richardson, who continues to play well, though hopefully will not be forced to take 42 percent of our shots while he’s on the floor (I double-checked the math, and that is not a typo.  How is that not a typo?).

Kacinas is coming off probably his worst offensive game of his career.  Martin’s said earlier in the season one of the tough things about this team is just how much we’re expecting from our freshmen, and it’s probably worth taking a step back every now and again to remember just how challenging this must be for Mindaugus and Carrera.  He’s been pushed into major minutes and has acquitted himself rather well overall.  He’ll have a tough matchup on the evening going against a 6’10” senior in Chubb and a 7’0″ junior in Dixon-Tatum.

If Chatkevicius ends up with the type of minutes he did last game, he’ll need to focus on the two things that’ve gotten him in trouble all year – turning the ball over at a horrific rate, and using fouls as a substitute for defense.  He adds a lot to our team in rebounding and has a nice touch around the rim (given the limited data set we have to work with from him), but he’s got to get better overall before he can really contribute minutes against the better players we’re coming up against now that we’re in conference play.

Lastly, go look at how much production we’re getting from Lakeem Jackson in so many different areas – rebounds on both ends, shooting, using up plenty of possessions, and finding a decent number of assists.  If he can find a way to start limiting his turnovers, he’s going to end up having a fine year.

Final Thoughts

KenPom: 69-68 L (49%)

TeamRankings: 69-66 W (59%)

Let’s end this post with an important reminder – Wednesday was just one game.  It was a crummy game, a game that was frustrating as hell to watch, but it was just one game.  South Carolina proved something you should’ve already known – when they want to, they can turn the ball over better than almost anyone in the country.

But something else you should remember – they don’t always do that.  And even when they do, they can also shoot the ball incredibly well, they rebound the hell out of the basketball on offense, and they put in great effort (something you haven’t really seen me criticize this season, and you probably won’t, is our effort).  It’s a team that probably won’t be remembered as one of the greats, but a team that can, and hopefully will, improve.  There’s a lot of basketball to be played.

And you know what?  This has the chance to be a decent match-up for us, overall.  Auburn has two bigs that they use interchangeably, but otherwise doesn’t bring a lot of height they can use to exploit our lack of size down low.  If the Gamecocks can put the turnover demon behind them – which yes, even after Wednesday, remains a possibility – they can play with these guys.

Given the injury bug that’s hit the Tigers, I’m sorely tempted to say that Carolina can do just enough to beat them.  And yet . . . I can’t see the matchup the Gamecocks exploit.  I see Auburn’s ability to beat us with our inability to guard Sullivan.  I see how Wallace should be able to find plenty of open teammates.  I see how Chubb will probably bang our guys around down low.  I’m not sure I see a matchup where the Gamecocks will be exploiting Auburn, rather than the other way around, especially if Brenton Williams and the 3-ball aren’t out to play.

It should be close.  But, if I had to call it, give me Auburn by a bucket.

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About marvinnedick

Blogging from the mid-Atlantic on Gamecock sports, as well as general musings on sports theory otherwise.
This entry was posted in 2012-13 Basketball, Auburn, Better Know An Opponent and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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