Bruce Pearl Previews Ole Miss

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    Auburn Head Coach Bruce Pearl

    Opening statement…
    “I’m really impressed with Ole Miss. I think what I would do is learn from history. Last year, we were picked 11th or 12th and Tennessee was picked 13th or so and won the league. These guys were picked 13th or 14th and they’re going to compete for the league championship. It’s a strong statement and I hate to put that on my friend Kermit Davis, but he’s done a great job. Andy Kennedy left the program in really good shape. Andy won 20 games almost every year and he left Kermit with a really good club. These three guards together are as good as any three-guard combination in the league. Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and Samir Doughty or Malik Dunbar or whoever you put in there is going to be a great matchup. It’s going to be a great challenge for both backcourts. They remind me a lot of us a year ago. [Breein] Tyree reminds me a lot of Bryce Brown, who was a very good player as a sophomore and became an all-conference player as a junior. Tyree, in my mind, is the most improved player in the league. He’s a great scorer with great range and has great athletic ability. When you put him alongside [Terence] Davis and [Devontae] Shuler, who at times were the better player, it’s quite a combination. Kermit’s got them really efficient offensively. Andy had given them great freedom and through that freedom they were an incredibly dangerous team. Last year, we had two close games against them. Ole Miss has dominated this series. They have dominated everything over there in Oxford for many, many years. Last year was the first time we had beaten them in eight or nine tries. Now that Kermit’s got them, he’s got them a little more disciplined defensively. They just don’t waster possessions. They get really good shots. They have a good, big, physical 5-man that you need in the league. They’ve got two of them, so they’ve got issues covered as far as foul trouble is concerned. Kermit went out and he got two really good freshmen 4-men in [Blake] Hinson and [KJ] Buffen, who I think are going to remind you of Chuma [Okeke], but Chuma is a year older. It’s going to be quite a chess match. Kermit and I have a lot of experience against each other. We’ve played a lot of good games over the years. There won’t be a ton of mystery. The issue is, when you go against a team that is as well coached as Ole Miss, if you guard Kermit a certain way, he has counters and will make you pay for guarding him that way. That’s what great offensive coaches do. If you do this, they’ll do that and if you do that, they’ll do this. That’s what makes them so good.”

    On concern of low free throw percentage…
    “It is a concern. Jared Harper has done a great job leading us now at the free throw line. But, a year ago we probably had three or four guys that were shooting above 80 percent. Right now, Samir [Doughty] is the only other player we have above 80 percent and he doesn’t get there enough. Bryce [Brown] is in the high 70s, but he needs to get into the 80s. Then, we just get too many ‘1-out-of-2s.’ Vanderbilt and Ole Miss was a great game up in Nashville. If Vanderbilt does a better job from the foul line, it’s a much closer game. When you’re playing close games, which is going to happen in conference play, 1-out-of-2 is going to get you beat.”

    On if he wants to get to the foul line more…
    “I’d like to get to the line more. By rule, I’m not allowed to talk about getting to the line. I’m not allowed to talk about how the game is being called and things like that. I will say this, when we had no post play a year ago and we had to spread it, drive it and shoot it, we got to the line a lot because we drove it a lot. It’s always been the case that when you’ve driven it a lot, they tend to call those hand-checking fouls and get guards to the foul line. When you try to get the ball inside, they allow so much more physicality by the nature of the size of the men that are in there. And then when the ball does get in there, they allow a lot of physicality and expect the bigs to play through the physicality as opposed to sometimes they don’t expect the guards to. That may be why we’re not shooting as many free throws even with a stronger inside game than we’ve had in the past. That wasn’t any kind of criticism, that’s just basketball 101.”

    On if he is expecting a physical game…
    “Yes. This is a very mature team. They bring back a lot of guys. They bring back four starters, so they’re big, strong, physical guys. Their 5-men are also really big and thick. There’s going to be a lot of wood being thrown around out there.”

    On having first four of six SEC games on the road…
    “We’re going to learn a lot about ourselves. I watched our game last year at Ole Miss last night. We didn’t play great, but we played hard. We didn’t play great offensively, but we didn’t let that affect us at the defensive end. We’re going to have to do a great job defensively. That will carry us – defense and rebounding will carry a little while. The two games we’ve lost, we were not very good offensively – turned the ball over, didn’t get good looks – it had then also affected our defense. Both Duke and NC State jumped out and scored. If on the road you let that happen again, that’ll be a real challenge. I look at this as a big opportunity. I honestly look at this like Tennessee a year ago. Where was Tennessee a year ago? About in the same spot Ole Miss is. They might’ve been a little higher ranked because they had a couple more marquee non-conference wins. They were picked 13th. That’s where Ole Miss is picked. And then they evolved a year ago. I kind of look at them very similarly.”

    On what team accomplished over 11-day break…
    “We’ve made the most of it, but it’s been a real challenge. We came back after Christmas and played North Florida on the 29th and that balance on our schedule was perfect. The games we played through finals – we had a stretch of UAB, NC State and Murray State – at that point we probably had played as many games as anybody in the country. You go home for Christmas, take a few days off, come back the 26th, 27th, 28th and play the 29th. We’re right on target and can take a couple days for the first of the year, then all of a sudden you’ve got nine or 10 days off. We came back January 1st and tried to work on ourselves that week as best as we possible could. I just hope that we are sharp early.”

    On trying to schedule a game during layoff before the season started…
    “You don’t get your conference schedule until so late that the non-conference schedule is basically done. We got our conference schedule sometime in September. At that point, there’s no games to be had. So, we played against ourselves.”

    On what he wanted the team to get done over break…
    “We prepared for Ole Miss and Georgia a little bit because we had some time. So, we’ll have a good preparation. You can’t duplicate Ole Miss’ 1-3-1 trapping defense and you can’t duplicate the way they change things up. You’ve got to do that in a game. The communication and the poise, those are all things that you’re going to see having four out of your first six on the road.”

    On having 10 guys in the rotation and being able to play best-on-best in practice over the break…
    “It helped. We didn’t do a ton of it. You don’t want to jinx yourself on this, but I’m telling you that coaches in season – it’s hard to go best-on-best. The big kid Udoka [Azubuike] got hurt for Kansas in a practice. I have no idea what happened in practice. He could’ve been doing a drill. It’s every coach’s nightmare to lose somebody in practice. We’re going to practice pretty good today and then travel tomorrow. You’ve got to be careful not hitting too hard in practice while you’re trying to stay sharp and prepare. That’s why you really need the games. And then what happens in the games, no matter what, the kids have a different level of adrenaline. Even though I tell them we’re going to hit, we’re going to practice, we’re going to go, it’s still practice. Sometimes that adrenaline that actually keeps you from being injured. It’s a game, it’s on and everything is firing.”

    @AuburnEinstein

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