By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Gus Malzahn isn't the only coach on the Plains who likes to play #AuburnFast.
Averaging 75.1 possessions per game, Bruce Pearl's basketball team plays with the sixth fastest tempo in the country, according to KenPom.com.
Auburn's game Saturday at 3 p.m. at Texas A & M will be a tempo test. With a smaller lineup and deeper bench, Pearl has the need for speed. The Aggies, with a bigger lineup but fewer reserves, want to go slow.
"Personnel would determine whether we can make it a faster tempo game," Pearl said.
The Tigers rank No. 63 nationally in offense, an increase of 158 spots from last season.
"Whether we can press them to go faster, if that's what we choose to do," Pearl said. "Or if they're going to be able to, because of their size and their ability to handle the ball, be patient and make sure that they go inside on a pretty regular basis.
"Inside shots lead to inside rebounds. That's the reason why they're such a great offensive rebounding team. They get it inside, and they either make it, get fouled, or when they miss it, because they've got such great size, they just reach over you and rebound the ball.
"To get it inside takes a little doing, but they've got the size to throw it over the top of you to get it where they want to get it. And then you've got the choice of going down to double team to take it away, and they can kick it out and knock down some shots."
For all the talk of Auburn's struggles on defense, it's worth noting that the Tigers rank No. 123 nationally in defense, an improvement of 40 spots from last year.
Auburn (16-10, 5-8) and Texas A&M (13-12, 5-8) are jockeying for position as the SEC Tournament nears, with the winner having a better chance of avoiding playing on the event's first day.
"Every time we win, we continue to do things that haven't been done here in a long time," Pearl said, relaying a message he shared with his team. "At 16-10, every time we win, we just add to what we've done."
Pearl also used Missouri's recent wins over Arkansas and at South Carolina as a talking point with the Tigers.
"It tells you that any team on any given night can beat anybody," he said.
So the Tigers head to College Station, hoping to start fast, play fast and earn win No. 17.
"They say the game is about matchups," Pearl said. "You've got a team that struggles to rebound the basketball in Auburn, because we play fast and because we play an undersized four, against a team that is second in the conference in blocked shots and leads in offensive rebounding, particularly the offensive rebounding percentage. They don't shoot a ton, and they don't play real fast, but the shots they do take, the ones they miss they go rebound at the highest percentage in the league. The reason for that is because they'll start 6-10, 6-10, 6-9 across the front line.
"Their weakness is their depth. They're only six or seven deep. But, they've played that way all year long. Texas A&M was picked third, fourth, fifth in our league by everybody. They lost a lot from a year ago from a team that got to the Sweet 16. But, their program is obviously in great shape under Billy Kennedy, and it will be a really challenging game for us and an interesting matchup."
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) February 17, 2017
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer