AUBURN, Ala. (EETV) In their last three game appearances, the Auburn Tigers have found themselves on the losing end of offensive showcases. Since its last win over No. 12 Missouri, Auburn has allowed opponents to average 87 points per contest, showing no resemblance of consistency on the defensive end of the floor. The Tigers are currently the top shot-blocking team in college basketball; however, if they hope to return to the win column in Tuesday night’s contest against Vanderbilt, head coach Bruce Pearl knows his squad will need to establish an identity on defense.
“They (Vanderbilt) are 4-1 when they score 75 points or more,” Pearl said. “They're 1-8 when they're held under 75 points. And teams are scoring 76 against us. So 75 is kind of a magic number.”
The key to finding success in stopping head coach Jerry Stackhouse’s offense? Understanding the opposing offensive attack and communication.
“Coach Flanigan talked to the team the other day about recognition,” Pearl said. “There are just some things that we can teach and show on film and drill, but if they don't communicate and recognize out there on the floor, they're going to struggle. We're going to struggle.”
Auburn’s seventh-year head coach has long considered the 2020-21 season to be an opportunity for development; however, does acknowledge that the remaining opponents present substantial challenges in doing so.
"We're so challenged defensively that there is lots of room to improve,” Pearl said. “How much will this team improve between now and the end of the year? I can you tell as the schedule gets tougher these last nine.”
In Pearls words, the team has a natural weakness: lack of individual quickness on the defensive end of the floor.
"We lack some quickness,” Pearl said. “That would be from a personnel standpoint. We have big, long guards, but our guards have been lined up pretty good and part of it is just their quickness factor...There is potential there, but that is our biggest challenge. Our guys are playing hard, just the quickness, keeping people in front has been the biggest challenge."
Despite noting player development challenges within his young squad, Pearl also acknowledges obstacles presented by rule changes which forced him to adapt his defensive coaching philosophy.
“I used to be a guy to press 94 feet for 40 minutes,” Pearl said. “But they've legislated that out of the game in a sense that it's really difficult to trap now just based on the cone and what they're allowing the offensive player to do as far as some freedom of movement. I've never been for those changes.
Pearl’s squad will have an opportunity to reestablish itself on Tuesday night when the Tigers travel to Nashville, a place where Auburn has emerged victorious just once in each of its past 11 trips. Tipoff between the Commodores and the Tigers is set for 7:30 p.m. CT. The contest will be broadcast live on SEC network and is streamable on the ESPN app.