AUBURN, Ala. — Welcome back to the SEC Country Auburn mailbag, where beat reporter Justin Ferguson answers your questions about Tigers athletics and, occasionally, strong restaurant opinions.
Thursday is the first day of March Madness, and Auburn fans definitely had the NCAA Tournament on the brain this week with the questions. The Tigers are looking forward to 2017-18 under Bruce Pearl after a disappointing finish to this season. Is the Big Dance in the cards this time next year? Also, what changes can Auburn expect from its passing offense and its passing defense.
All those questions are answered this week, along with a delightful hot take experiment involving some of Auburn’s most famous food. Let’s dig in.
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@TayRenee3: Is Auburn’s time for basketball coming soon? I mean, we didn’t even get an invite to the NIT…
Auburn basketball definitely moved in the right direction this season under Bruce Pearl. The distance it moved, however, was somewhat disappointing. A winning season is great, but the Tigers fell apart defensively in SEC play — and that cost them a trip to the NIT. If they would’ve landed one of those invites, it would’ve been a stressful but ultimately successful season.
The Tigers need to figure out how to defend better as a team in 2017-18. This team can score with nearly anyone when it’s clicking. But it relied on freshmen who gave up way too many second-half leads. Whether it’s communication or conditioning, Auburn has to get better in that area. The four starting freshmen simply didn’t develop enough as defenders from the first to last game, and that’s worrisome.
Talent-wise, Auburn has what it takes to compete for a NCAA Tournament berth next season. South Carolina, Arkansas and Vanderbilt weren’t inherently more skilled than what Auburn will be in 2017-18, and they all made March Madness. It’s going to take major improvement on defense and some leadership to step up, but Pearl’s recruiting prowess should pay off in a big way next season.
@DanInNC_Ohrly21: What is the way-too-early AU MBB depth chart for the 2017-2018 season in your opinion?
Auburn adds 4-star point guard Davion Mitchell and forward Chuma Okeke next season, and physical small forward transfer Desean Murray will become eligible. That offsets the losses of T.J. Dunans, LaRon Smith and Ronnie Johnson. Auburn will also have a couple of free scholarships to pursue graduate transfers, which they might need in certain spots.
I think defensively, it might be best for Danjel Purifoy to slide to the 3 and bring Mustapha Heron to the 2. That gap at the power forward position could be filled by Okeke, who has the size and rebounding ability to play there immediately, or Anfernee McLemore. Personally, I think McLemore could be a breakout player in 2017-18 if he can add some more weight and develop a better jumper.
This is how I see the depth chart shaking out right now. As you can see, Auburn could stand to pick up a stronger big man — one who could provide depth behind the 4 and the 5 or even start at the 4. An experienced hand in the backcourt, like Johnson, would bring some much-needed stability.
|PG||Jared Harper (So.)||Davion Mitchell (Fr.)|
|SG||Mustapha Heron (So.)||Bryce Brown (Jr.)||T.J. Lang (Sr.)|
|SF||Danjel Purifoy (So.)||Desean Murray (Jr.)||T.J. Lang (Sr.)|
|PF||Chuma Okeke (Fr.)||Anfernee McLemore (So.)|
|C||Austin Wiley (So.)||Horace Spencer (Sr.)||Anfernee McLemore (So.)|
@CooperShoemaker: Will Chip Lindsey bring more bubble screens or downfield passes to the offense?
Both. That might seem like a lame copout, but it’s true. Chip Lindsey’s arrival as Auburn offensive coordinator is set to produce more passes period — screens and downfield ones. Both are vital to his offense.
As I wrote a while back in Ferg’s Film Room, a typical Lindsey RPO play always includes an inside receiver flashing for a bubble or any other type of quick screen. Lindsey also likes to call standard bubble screen plays to draw defenses in tight before hitting them for bigger plays downfield. (Watch the slot receiver in the play below, before the quarterback goes to the deep outside receiver.)
When these two are mixed and matched, the offense keeps the defense on its toes. Expect to see Auburn try more downfield passes next season, especially with the arrival of Jarrett Stidham and the talents of players such as Kyle Davis and Nate Craig-Myers. But bubble screens and quick swings to running backs are staples in Lindsey’s offense, which wants to get playmakers in space first and foremost.
@ThomasThePierce: Should Auburn expect better secondary play this year?
First off, let’s define what better would look like in 2017 for the Auburn secondary. The Tigers ranked 17th nationally in yards allowed per attempt and passing touchdowns allowed while also finishing 6th in pass breakups per game. Those are excellent numbers by the standards of recent Auburn defenses.
Those numbers also came with Josh Holsey and Rudy Ford, who both graduated. Auburn has an issue of depth right now in the secondary, especially at safety, where seniors Stephen Roberts and Nick Ruffin share a free safety role while a walk-on backs up Tray Matthews at strong safety. Javaris Davis and Jeremiah Dinson both look like ready replacements for Holsey and Ford, but those are big shoes to fill.
Combine all that with yet another secondary coach in Greg Brown, and there’s reason for some concern. Auburn needs a better year out of Carlton Davis and several young corners to grow up quickly. I would be somewhat surprised if Auburn was better in the secondary in 2017, but I don’t think they’ll necessarily take a step back. Matching 2016’s level would be good, especially with what should be a better offense on the other side.
@Standrew5998: How do you rank the Jordan-Hare experience compared to the rest of the SEC? How will the new additions improve the experience?
I haven’t been to every stadium in the SEC, but I’ve been to most of the best ones. I believe the best Auburn can offer — a major night game with a sellout crowd — is in the upper tier of SEC experiences.
The only ones I can say with certainty that are better are LSU’s Tiger Stadium at night and Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium in a close game. The atmosphere of the former and the sheer size of the latter are a cut above. (I’ll make my first trip to Texas A&M’s Kyle Field this upcoming season.)
As for the new additions, I think those will be bigger for recruiting purposes than upgrading the standard gameday experience. I’m sure it’ll upgrade the experience for those who have the club seats in the new facility. I think Auburn is in the middle of the road when it comes to facilities, but places such as Tiger Stadium prove you don’t need all the bells and whistles to create a fantastic experience.
Your unpopular Auburn food opinions
On Tuesday, it seemed like all of Twitter was arguing about barbecue and firing off the worst takes about it. I tweeted that we should have a day where Auburn people could tweet their unpopular opinions about local restaurants. And then some of y’all took that and ran with it.
My unpopular opinion was that Momma Goldberg’s deli is extremely overrated. The nachos are soggy and unnecessary — a plain bag of nacho Doritos is so much better — and the sandwiches are underwhelming for how much you’re paying for them. To my surprise, a double-digit number of brave souls in my Twitter mentions agreed with me. We can all be heretical together.
Here are the 10 unpopular Auburn food opinions that caught my eye the most and what I think about them:
@John_P_Carvalho: “Toomer’s Lemonade is fine, but not worth the worship it gets.” I completely agree. I get the cultural and historical importance. But it’s just lemonade. I could live without it.
@DerekDunaway: “There are too many chicken finger restaurants.” All you need is Tenda Chick. That’s it.
@willcollier: “Auburn does not now have, and at no time in the past (at least) 30 years has had a really good barbecue joint. Shameful.” There are a handful of good barbecue places in the area — Mike and Ed’s is my go-to — but Will is right. None of them blow you away, and that includes the late Price’s Barbecue House (RIP).
@Cole_Conner_: “BBQ House was trash.” The breakfast was better than the barbecue itself. But I wouldn’t call it trash. Respect the dead.
@EvanMcCullers: “Little Italy is trash.” I understand the appeal of Little Italy, with its late hours and cheapish prices and location downtown. But I got incredibly sick after eating there a few years ago and never went back. I don’t think I’ve missed much.
@wes4au: “We need more pizza places downtown.” This is the best response I got the whole day. This is finely executed sarcasm.
@Z_Izzo: “Korean is the only type of food that has above average representation in Auburn.” I don’t even eat it, but I know enough about the scene here from my Korean friends to know this is 100 percent true.
@blakeells: “they shouldn’t have closed that Checkers it was good as hell” I laughed at this for several solid minutes. I was surprised that Checkers closed, too. It looked for a while like it would survive anything — fire, a lack of any constant traffic, nuclear apocalypse, you name it.
@Crispy_Goodness: “Daylight Donuts was better than Dunkin Donuts.” I’ll fire back even hotter — anything is better than Dunkin Donuts.
@My_Rice_Sickle: “Pannie George’s is awful compared to Veggies.” This is the only response that made me want to fight someone. This is slander. Pannie George’s is heaven.