Show Me My Opponent: Auburn (#2)

All the usual stuff but first we have gotta talk Kentucky

I mean holy crap. Out of nowhere, a Tennessee season that seemed very much over as of about 10:15 PM ET on Tuesday night was very suddenly wide open with possibilities by 11:15.

Oh, that’s great. I think we’ll move on. Just kiddin’

Now, Tennessee gets to play Senior Day against a flagging Auburn team that might legitimately suck and has barely posted a better scoring margin in SEC play (+0.7) than these Tennessee Volunteers (+0.5). Considering how bad it all looked after the Arkansas game just over a week ago, I can’t imagine how much better things could have broken for Tennessee’s postseason hopes.

All-SEC John Fulkerson and others must lead the inside attack

Anyway, here’s John Fulkerson. What an incredible player, yeah?

Tennessee needs him to get 15+ shot attempts in this one, and I’d love for every single one of them to come in the paint. It seems like for every two attempts Fulkerson gets down low, he gets a pair of free throw attempts to go with it.

We know Auburn blocks plenty of shots at the rim, but we also know they’ve struggled to guard mobile perimeter players as well as having some consistency issues in guarding post players. Obviously, none of Tennessee’s perimeter players fit the mold we’re looking for perfectly, but Jordan Bowden has taken a very pleasing step forward from the January 18 Vanderbilt game onward. He’s gotten much better at taking the ball to the rim, whether it’s off of a ball screen or out of a scenario created by another player. I’d also love to see Yves Pons take it to the rim more regularly, though at this point, I’m perfectly fine with basically any shot he takes within 10 feet of the rim.

Let it fly

Let’s see some more threes.

Tennessee should obviously prioritize heading inside, but it really does seem like things are turning around on the perimeter. Tennessee’s comeback against Kentucky happened in part because of an 8-for-18 run from deep, and they held on against Florida thanks to hitting 6-for-14.

By this point of the season, everyone knows who should and should not be taking threes, so I’m not going to waste much time on it…but imagine how fun and good it would be if Jordan Bowden hits five threes against Auburn. Also, please avoid turning the ball over 24 times. Seems easy.

Force Auburn away from the rim at all costs

Defensively, Tennessee’s preferred mode – closing out hard on threes and forcing shorter twos – is probably not a terrible strategy against a team that takes tons of threes and rarely, if ever, takes a mid-range jumper. Auburn will get to the rim often, and it’s on Tennessee to both challenge Auburn’s attempts and to not commit a load of fouls.

Last time out, I highlighted how good Georgia’s defensive strategy against Auburn was and how it forced Auburn into a bunch of non-ideal two-pointers, but Tennessee couldn’t quite pull off the exact same strategy. Kentucky, meanwhile, did a pretty good job of forcing several bad twos from Auburn. If Tennessee does the same, they’ll win.

Threes: guard ‘em.

We know Auburn is going to take a bunch of them, and a lot of them are not going to go in. It doesn’t matter; Tennessee has to guard every Auburn three as if it is coming from Klay Thompson. A coach I interviewed in Division III recently told me his philosophy for teams like these: “We want to force shots over a contest, limit everyone to one shot, and do it as a team.” If Tennessee does this, again, they will win.

One more thing while we’re here: Auburn has been lights-out on the offensive boards this year, with Austin Wiley in particular being one of the best rebounders in the country. Tennessee needs to be much better on the boards than they’ve been at times lately. I’d prefer to make more GIFs of normal, quality defensive rebounding than of putbacks.

NEXT PAGE: Lineup notes, key matchups, prediction(s)

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