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JwgreDeux

Season Preview

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Following a season that got our hopes up only to let us down in the end, we find ourselves on the brink of a season with real expectations.

There are many good write ups out there on the net about the upcoming season, so I am not going to try and rehash everything that has already be said. I will however offer some thoughts on this team, the roster, schedule, season and outlook.  So let’s jump right in.

Any season preview starts with the roster; we lost some valuable contributors, have some exciting newcomers, and are bringing back more talent and production than any year in recent memory. Players we lost: TJ Dunans, TJ Lang, Ronnie Johnson, and Laron Smith. I personally was a believer that Dunans was the most unique player on the team last year, filling in gaps, and when he played well we won. However, the biggest loss is by far Johnson. He was one of the best backup point guards in the conference. He provided instant production, and that is a valuable player to have coming off the bench. Lang and Smith both had some big moments, but I don’t believe we will struggle to replace their production.  Let me also mention the loss of Devin Waddell, who played his guts out when he got on the floor, and was forced into some valuable minutes on occasion. Best wished to you Devin, and all you former Tigers.

Newcomers: DeSean Murry (6-3 F JR), Malik Dunbar (6-6 F Jr),  Chuma Okeke (6-8 F FR), and Davion Mitchell (6-1 G Fr). The first two are transfers and the latter two are top 50 recruits. It is hard to know which one of these players will have the biggest impact, but all will get their chance. Personally, with the loss of Johnson, I think we need the most out of Mitchell. If the other three struggle, we have guys to eat up those minutes, but Mitchell will be needed to spell Harper for periods of rest, and provide a spark if Harper struggles.

Who we return: Jared Harper, Mustapha Heron, Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee Mclemore, Austin Wiley, Horace Spencer, and Bryce Brown. Expecting big things from most of these guys. Heron is one of the most reliable guys in the league, and should have another stellar year. I hope to see signs of maturity out of Harper, primarily more consistency. McLemore and Wiley should both take steps forward as they are more accustomed to the level of competition. Brown improved from his freshman season to have a nice sophomore year, and I look for even more from him this season.  Spencer should be more accustomed to playing the 4 with the offseason to work on it, but is going to have his hands full fighting off Okeke for minutes.

As far as all the off the court drama, I have zero insight into how that will play out. However, Auburn should sit down any player in any sport that it believes is likely to be ineligible. With that said, I think we have to be prepared that Wiley and Purifoy (the two best looking pros on the team) could possibly miss some time. The rest of this post will be based on them playing a full season, as we don’t know anything different at this moment.

I would expect a starting five of Harper, Heron, Purifoy, Spencer/McLemore and Wiley. McLemore seems to play better at the five off the bench, but he certainly could start at the four. Spencer should be more suited for the 4 spot after an offseason to rep it. I would not be shocked at all however to see Okeke in the starting lineup for his aggressiveness and physicality. Additionally, if we chose to stay with a smaller lineup, we could see Brown at the 2 and Purifoy slide down to the 4 as he did much of last season.  For now though I’ll go with a two deep of Harper/Mitchell, Heron/Brown, Purifoy/Murray, Spencer/Okeke, Wiley/McLemore with Dunbar being third at the 3 or 4. That is a nice looking roster.

After the roster, you have to look at the schedule and ours sets up similar to last year. I think we have a good chance to repeat last year’s non-conference record, it will be difficult to improve upon it.  Right now it looks like we will only face 2 or 3 top 100 teams (KenPom) in the non-conference, in Middle Tennessee, UConn and one team in Charleston TBD. In Charleston we will face either ODU or Temple, depending on first round action, both will likely be top 100 team. Additionally, Dayton and UAB could be that rank once we get to them, depending on how their seasons play out. A non-conference record of 11-2 or so would be doable to follow up our 11-2 record from last season. Where our troubles began last season, and how this season will be judged, will be our conference record. Last season we lost 4 of our opening 5 SEC games, and at that point we were playing for the NIT (we came up short). To add insult to injury, we closed the SEC slate losing 3 of our last 4, with another stretch of three straight losses in mid February.  Simply put, we can’t repeat any of those stretches if we want to see a break through season. Despite those struggles, we heard our name mentioned in a few bubble projections from time to time. I truly believe last year’s team was one winning streak away from being a bubble candidate. I think this years team has a chance to flip that conference record from 7-11 to 10 + conference wins and be in the discussion come March.

The SEC is going to be a better league this season, so just being better than we were last year will not be enough.  Looking at KenPom, our weakest league opponent is LSU at 91, we come in ranked at 46 in case you were wondering. Right now, I would project wins vs: UT, Ark, OleMiss, UGA, LSU, Vandy, USC, Bama, USC, in that order for 9 conference wins. I would project losses vs: MissSt, Bama, Mizz, OleMIss, A&M, UGA, UK, UF, Ark, in that order for 9 conference losses. That would be a record of 20-11 and the upper middle of the SEC in league play, and likely an NIT team. However, we would have 13 or so wins vs the top 100, and that may get us in. While I love Auburn, I have to project with my brain not may heart. The good news is we have the ability to outperform this projection if we do a few things.

Areas we must improve to make the tourney: defense, consistency, and rebounding. Much like last year, I don’t anticipate scoring to be a problem. When you look at these three factors in light of the players we lost, you see why I think Johnson (defense & consistency) is our biggest loss. Dunans was wildly inconsistent, Lang was soft on defense and rebounding, and while Smith was a good shot blocker, he wasn’t dominant on the glass. Looking at the newcomers in the light of these three factors, I’m most excited about Okeke, but also think Murray will surprise some people.  Murray is an undersized forward, but plays with a very physical nature about him. He was an outstanding player in the Big South Conference. He is a good scorer, defender and rebounder, as well as being very efficient. I envision him as being a more efficient version of Dunans’ role, with less emphasis on scoring, providing a spark off the bench, with some scoring, rebounding, defense and energy. Okeke has a chance to be a presence on the glass. That ability could force him into the starting lineup at some point during the year. He is physical, and should be an immediate impact kind of player.

Areas of concern remain. I am still concerned with perimeter defense. With the addition of Mitchell we are still small at the point, and Heron is not an elite defender at the 2 spot. Our team defense has to improve overall, we can’t just rely on rim protectors. I would say this is my biggest concern.

Another area of concern is Wiley’s health. If he is healthy, he is going to be the best player on the court most nights. If not, and his movement is limited, he will be a liability. Without his athleticism he, as any player, would be greatly limited. This concern magnifies the importance of Okeke on this roster. It may also require Spencer to play the 5 and Purifoy to play the 4, but that is all speculation if Wiley isn’t healthy.

I don’t want to speculate too much on the FBI issues, but needless to say, the importance of our newcomers will be even greater if this occurs.

CBP has real expectations to face this season, this team should be post season bound. A few projections have us in the NCAA field. With some defensive improvement I believe we could be there come March. War Eagle!

Gotta head out, on my way to see CBP and the other state head coaches at the Birmingham Tip Off Club event. 

 

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Spoke to CBP tonight briefly and exchanged some pleasantries.

When he addressed the crowd he shared a few interesting things. One was that Mitchell is a very good on ball defender, could be one of the best in the league. He also, said Harper had put on some weight and was the strongest pound for pound on the team. 

Didn’t back away from tourney team talk. Seems to really like this team. 

 

 

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Injury to Wiley has me pretty concerned. I just don't know how we'll do only having Spencer, Mclemore, and Okeke as our bigs. But even more than that i wonder how the team will handle the different styles we'd play with and without him. Having a guy like that just totally changes how you run an offense so its almost like if he is only going to be there some you don't want him at all cause he has such an impact on the game. 

But other then injury worries this is certainly the most athletic team we've seen at AU in a loooong time. Every one of these guys can move with the ball and are super athletic. That has to count for something and hopefully it counts for a lot on the defensive side of the ball. 

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18 hours ago, JwgreDeux said:

Auburn should sit down any player in any sport that it believes is likely to be ineligible. With that said, I think we have to be prepared that Wiley and Purifoy (the two best looking pros on the team) could possibly miss some time.

With the news coming out this morning that Wiley and Purifoy will be held out, Auburn has some roles to fill in the lineup. Replacing our two best pro prospects will be a difficult task. 

Replacing Wiley is fairly straight forward, Okeke will likely be tasked with that job. He doesn't quite have the size of Wiley, but he was extremely impressive in the USA basketball camp work outs and played well in our Italy tour. Whether he steps in to the starting lineup is yet to be seen, but I would expect him to come off the bench at the 4 or 5. 

Replacing Purifoy will be more difficult in my opinion, even though Wiley has the higher upside. Purifoy could score, rebound and handle the ball. Dunbar and Murray will be relied upon to replace his production in some combination. 

So what does the starting five look like with two starters gone? I would expect, at least early in the year, to see Harper, Brown, Heron, Spencer and McLemore as our first five. Will be interesting to see what lineup CBP uses tonight in the exhibition. 

Right now we don't know how long they will be out, but we have to assume it won't be just a few games. With that said, it certainly affects our season outlook. The biggest loss will be their combined rebounding. We are losing 9 rebounds per game with them out, so some of the newcomers are going to have to step up. 

 

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