Bruce Pearl says that teams with size and athleticism have given his Auburn basketball team problems early in the season.
Bob Marlin is concerned about his Louisiana-Lafayette squad’s ball security.
Both know that their teams can shoot better than they’ve shown in their 1-1 season starts.
Which team can rid itself of those early-season struggles will have an advantage Friday when the Ragin’ Cajuns travel to face the Tigers at 8 p.m. at Auburn Arena in their second game in the MGM Grand Main Event.
The Cajuns, in particular, are looking to clean things up after committing 25 turnovers and going on cold streaks at the end of each half in Monday’s 64-53 loss at Tulsa.
“It’s early in the year, and you see things like that in college basketball across the board,” said Marlin, whose squad will play the second of a four-game road swing in the expansive MGM Grand event. “I watched Gonzaga get ahead of St. Joseph’s 60-11 the other night ... that’s what happens early in the season. Teams have stretches when they struggle offensively.”
Marlin could easily have been talking about Auburn, which is also coming off a road loss. The Tigers were within four at halftime at Colorado on Monday, but a 24-0 run contributed greatly to what became a 90-59 setback.
“It was pretty helpless,” Pearl said this week. “I thought at times our effort was aimless. There was nothing wrong with our effort, but if it’s aimless we’re not going to be effective. We have to make shots for us to be able to win.”
The Tigers were 6-for-33 in the second half against the Buffs and finished at 29.0 percent from the field. The Cajuns were better, shooting 40.9 percent at Tulsa, but missed their final eight shots in the first half and finished the game on a 3-of-11 run.
“We’ve got to play better on the offensive end and maintain that on the defensive end,” Marlin said. “We’ve got to rebound better against Auburn. They’ve got one guy who’s one of those types that can lead the nation in rebounding.”
Cinmeon Bowers, a 6-foot-7, 280-pound junior college transfer, is averaging 15.0 boards per game along with 14.5 points, and is one of four twin-digit scorers for the Tigers. KT Harrell, a transfer guard who started every game last year and averaged 18.3 points, has had 20 in both the opening win over Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the loss at Colorado.
The Cajuns are only averaging 69.0 points after leading the Sun Belt in scoring last year with over 81 per outing. Returnee Shaun Long (11.5) and newcomers Devonta Walker (11.5) and Brian Williams (10.0) are also each averaging five rebounds per game.
“Some of Colorado’s athleticism gave us problems,” Pearl said, “and those guys (UL-Lafayette) are very athletic up front. This is the third straight team we’ve played that made the NCAA’s a year ago, so it’s a big concern.”
A bigger concern for Marlin is his team’s backcourt. The Cajuns have given up 46 turnovers in two games and will now face an Auburn squad that’s expected to apply pressure from the opening tip.
“We weren’t even pressured (Monday) and we had every turnover you can have,” he said. “We worked on that a lot yesterday (Wednesday) in practice, we weren’t very good early but we got better with it. Auburn isn’t deep up front but they’re deep at guard, and we’re going to have to handle their pressure.”
The Cajuns will travel from Auburn to Las Vegas for the final two games in the MGM Grand event, meeting Milwaukee (1-2) on Monday and Oral Roberts (1-1) on Tuesday.