Editor’s Note–This is the 10th in a series of articles previewing the 2022-23 Auburn basketball team.
AUBURN, Alabama–As the Tigers prepare for the 2022-23 season it looks like this group has multiple areas that could be team strengths plus several areas that probably need development to become strengths. Coach Bruce Pearl begins his ninth season in charge of the program on Monday night vs. George Mason University with the Tigers ranked 15th nationally.
It certainly looks like this edition of the Tigers has major potential to control the boards led Johni Broome, a 6-10, 235 sophomore, who was an outstanding rebounder the past two seasons at Morehead State. He has added size and strength since transferring to AU this summer and that showed with an impressive performance in the three exhibition games in Israel.
Broome is expected to share playing time with this year’s largest Tiger, 6-11, 256 junior Dylan Cardwell, who also performed well on the exhibition tour.
The Tigers have more size with 6-10, 225 freshman Yohan Traore, a five-star signee in the mix this year, along with 6-10, 245 senior center Babatunde Akingbola.
More rebounding potential is on the roster from 6-8, 230 senior forward Jaylin Williams, 6-6, 220 senior Allen Flanigan plus 6-6, 230 junior Chris Moore.
On the other side of the ledger of potential strengths and weaknesses is three-point shooting. As a team the Tigers shot 31.8 percent on three-balls, which ranked seventh in the SEC for accuracy. When you subtract Jabari Smith’s numbers the rest of the team made just 28.9 percent of its shots from trey-land.
Whether it is guards Wendell Green and Zep Jasper or other returning players, or newcomers like Chris Westry, Traore and Tre Donaldson, the Tigers need to go into games with multiple players shooting the ball well from long range to keep opponens from setting up their defenses to double-team the ball when it gets near the basket.
On the plus side of the ledger this roster looks to have two capable players at every position along with a couple of spares. One of the major area concerns is the Tigers are not big at the guard spots, something that some opponents were able to take advantage of last year.
Green is listed at five-foot-ten, K.D. Johnson is a six-footer and Jasper is listed at six-foot-one. Freshman Chance Westry, when he is cleared for action, brings a good bit more height to the position at six-foot-six, but is recovering from offseason knee surgery. If everything goes well he should be in action sometime in November.
Donaldson, if he breaks into the main playing rotation, has more size than Green, Jasper and Johnson. At six-foot-two, 190 pounds, Donaldson has good strength as would be expected for a freshman who was also an outstanding football player in high school.
Flanigan has experience at guard, even filling in at the point two seasons ago, and could be a good matchup physically for large guards the Tigers will face if Pearl needs him to defend a large shooting guard.
With the Covid exception rule there are numerous teams around the country that are older and more experienced than a traditional college team. A plus for the Tigers is that there is plenty of experience available all five positions.
Last season the Tigers featured All-American Smith, the SEC and national freshman of the year, when they needed to score. On defense the Tigers could rely on SEC and national defensive player of the year Walker Kessler when the team needed to make a stop. There may be several good options to step up into those roles, but the season will need to play out a bit before we know how good those options are.
Numbers of Note: In addition to winning all of their home games last season, the Tigers won their first seven road contests before losing in overtime at Arkansas. That longest road game winning streak in program history was started by the 1957-58 Tigers coached by Joel Eaves and went into the following season before ending at eight.
Quoting the Tigers: Green is the leading returnee in three-pointers made with 59, 20 behind 2021-22 team leader Smith. Green and fellow guards Jasper and Johnson are each heading into their second seasons with the Tigers. Green, a second team preseason All-SEC pick as is Johnson, notes the returning guards are more comfortable working together and said, “I am excited to see how it translates to the games.”
Final Tuneup: The Tigers, who are ranked 15th in the AP Top 25 poll, will take on UAH, a team ranked No. 24 in Division II?preseason poll at 7 p.m. CDT on Wednesday at Neville Arena. This will be the first time the teams have played.
Wednesday’s game will not be televised or streamed, but fans can listed to the broadcast on the Auburn Athletics mobile app or online at auburntigers.com/watch/ or:
Did You Know? The Tigers are 7-1 in exhibition games at Auburn/Neville Arena under Pearl. Last year the Tigers defeated Southern Indiana, the program that gave him his first head coaching job, by a score of 68-54. The loss came prior to the start of 2017-18 season when a team that would win the SEC championship fell 100-95 in overtime to a red-shot shooting Barry College team, a Division II opponent.
Last Shot: Three current team members are tied for the most steals in a game by an Auburn player in Pearl’s previous eight seasons at Auburn. K.D. Johnson did it twice with five vs. Syracuse and UConn while Zep Jasper did it vs. Nebraska and Wendell Green vs. Mississippi State.
The others with five include K.C. Ross-Miller (twice), Chuma Okeke (twice), Antoine Mason, Malik Dunbar and J’Von McCormick.
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