Auburn Basketball Preview: #79
Overall Rank: #79
Conference Rank: #10 Southeastern Conference
2008-09: 24-12, 10-6
2008-09 postseason: NIT
Coach: Jeff Lebo (81-76 at Auburn, 196-139 overall)
Auburn won 24 games, including ten in a relatively tough Southeastern Conference, but still found themselves on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. And now the team needs to do a little rebuilding. The good news is Coach Jeff Lebo has finally shown signs that he can turn the Tigers into a winning program on the hardwood, but there should be a small step backwards this season.
Key Losses: F Korvotney Barber, G Rasheem Barrett, G Quantez Robertson
Sophomores Tony Neysmith and Brandon McGee are transferring in from major programs (Oklahoma and Indiana, respectively), but they are still relatively inexperienced players who never saw major playing time as freshmen. They should be able to compete for minutes off the bench, but do not expect them to suddenly be extremely productive players. Kenny Gabriel, a junior college transfer, could play a larger role. The 6-8 forward only spent one year at Paris Community College in Texas, but he is a versatile player who can bang under the basket or step out and hit the mid-range jumper. Fellow big men Ty Armstrong and Robert Chubb will provide even more depth up front, while shooting guards Andre Malone and Earnest Ross will battle for minutes on the perimeter.
The Tigers will rely on their outside shooting quite a bit and that is not a bad thing when Tay Waller and Frankie Sullivan are on the floor. Waller connected on nearly three three-pointers per game and averaged 12.1 points per contest. Nearly all of his shots were from beyond the arc and he could develop into a much more dynamic scorer during his senior campaign if he was more aggressive getting to the basket. Sullivan generally played the sharpshooter off the bench role last season and will likely do the same this time around. His shooting was a little inconsistent as a freshman, but he certainly proved that he can get hot from long range. With a little more strength to get to the basket and a little more consistency on his shot, Sullivan could be in for a surprising sophomore season.
Auburn is really going to miss Korvotney Barber’s toughness and tenacity under the basket. Lucas Hargrove is a fine forward who can stretch out the opposing defense with his outside shooting, but he is not going to hit the glass as hard as Barber. As far as returning players are concerned, that leaves Johnnie Lett and Brendon Knox. Lett started eight games last year and is definitely a capable rebounder, but he will not be scoring 12.8 points per game like Barber did last season. Knox is a big bodied center who will clog the paint, but he is not much of a scorer either. If nobody is a threat to score around the basket, Waller and Sullivan will not find themselves with many open looks from outside.
Who to Watch:
Replacing Barber is a big issue, but so is replacing Quantez Robertson. Robertson dished out 3.2 assists per game last year and he often set up the scorers to get easy buckets. DeWayne Reed is the star of this team and he actually dished out more assists than Robertson did last season, but now Reed will have to spend more time with the ball in his hands. After averaging 13.2 points per game mostly as a shooting guard, it will be interesting to see how he fares with the ball in his hands.
Reed will do fine as a point guard, but his scoring may suffer because of it. That means Waller, Sullivan and Hargrove better be ready to score from the perimeter and do more than just shoot three-pointers if Reed is not available to carry this team in the scoring column. While a trip to the NIT was a little disappointing last year, it is the realistic goal for the team during the 2009-2010 campaign.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
DeWayne Reed, Senior, Guard, 13.2 points per game
Tay Waller, Senior, Guard, 12.1 points per game
Lucas Hargrove, Senior, Forward, 8.1 points per game
Kenny Gabriel, Sophomore, Forward, DNP last season
Johnnie Lett, Senior, Forward, 2.8 points per game