Welcome to The Sports Bank’s second annual college basketball season preview series. Last year we looked at 99 teams in 99 days. This year, we are being slightly more aggressive and expanding to 111 teams in 111 days. We will rank the 74 power conference teams and top 37 mid-majors in reverse power ranking order. We’ll break down rosters, non-conference schedules, and pick a player to watch for each team.
Coming in at #109 in our “111 in 111” is the Auburn Tigers who enter the second season of their re-building project under head coach Tony Barbee.
Last season: 11th, 4-12 in SEC, 11-20 overall
Projected SEC Finish: 11th
Projected Depth Chart
F/C: Rob Chubb (Jr)/Willy Kouassi (Fr)
PF: Ken Gabriel (Sr)/Adrian Forbes (Sr)/Bernard Morena (Fr)
G/F: Josh Langford (So)/Noel Johnson (Jr)
SG: Varez Ward (Jr)/Allen Payne (So)/Cedrick McAfee (Fr)
PG: Frankie Sullivan (Jr)/Chris Denson (So)/Tony Neysmith (Sr)/Josh Wallace (Jr)
Gone: G/F-Earnest Ross (transfer-Missouri), SG-Andre Malone (transfer-Rhode Island), F/C-Ty Armstrong (transfer)
The Tony Barbee Era got off to an awful start for Auburn last season as the team suffered embarrassing home losses to low-majors UNC-Asheville, Samford, Campbell, Jacksonville, and Presbyterian before SEC play even tipped off. Rome was not built in one day and neither will this basketball program, but the Tigers should be slightly more competitive this season.
While the Tigers lose three players to transfer including leading scorer and rebounder Earnest Ross, they also welcome in a pair of transfers who should make significant impacts in their first year of being eligible at Auburn. Former Texas combo guard Varez Ward has only played in three games the past two seasons after sitting out last season and suffering a season ending ruptured quadriceps tendon in 2009-2010 but should add stability to the backcourt.
The athletic Noel Johnson comes in from Clemson but will not be eligible until after the first semester. He figures to battle for minutes on the wing with Josh Langford, who suffered through a disappointing freshman season.
Point guard Frankie Sullivan will add to that improved backcourt after missing all but six games a season ago due to a knee injury. Even though he is more of a scorer than true floor general, Sullivan’s return at the point will be welcomed for a team that finished 300 th out of 346 Division One teams in assists. Chris Denson, Allen Payne, Tony Neysmith, and freshman Cedrick McAfee give Barbee plenty of options with his backcourt depth; a luxury he did not have last season after Andre Malone chose to transfer.
The frontcourt will look fairly similar to last year which isn’t necessarily an encouraging sign. Kenny Gabriel, Robb Chubb, and Adrian Forbes are back for another go-around while freshmen Willy Kouassi and Bernard Morena will try to work themselves into the mix.
On paper, Auburn looks like an improved team from a year ago. However, they figure to be battling with LSU to stay out of the cellar of what should once again be a competitive SEC.
Player to Watch: Varez Ward
Despite only being a sophomore eligibility wise, Ward is entering his fourth year of college basketball. He started the first three games for a very talented Texas team in 2009 before suffering a season ending injury and then sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. He was not much of a three-point shooter in his first season-plus with the Longhorns but will give Barbee another player who can handle the rock and facilitate the offense. The combination of Ward and Sullivan in the backcourt should provide a need up-grade considering walk-on Josh Wallace was forced to play heavy minutes last season due to injuries and transfer.
Key Non-Conference Games:
12/2 at Seton Hall (SEC/Big East Invitational)
12/15 at South Florida
12/22 vs. Hawaii (Diamond Head Classic)
12/23 vs. Xavier/Long Beach State (Diamond Head Classic)
12/25 vs. Kansas State/Southern Illinois/Clemson/UTEP (Diamond Head Classic)
OTHER 111 IN 111′S:
#90 Arizona State Sun Devils
#91 Marshall Thundering Herd
#92 Oregon State Beavers
#93 Washington State Cougars
#94 Iowa Hawkeyes
#95 Ole Miss Rebels
#96 Nebraka Cornhuskers
#97 Oklahoma Sooners
#98 South Florida Bulls
#99 LSU Tigers
#100 Colorado Buffaloes
#101 DePaul Blue Demons
#102 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#103 Wake Forest Demon Deacons
#104 Seton Hall Pirates
#105 Providence Friars
#106 Auburn Tigers
#107 South Carolina Gamecocks
#108 Texas Tech Red Raiders
#109 Penn State Nittany Lions
#110 Boston College Eagles
#111 Utah Utes
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a fomer contributor at The Washington Times Communities. David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu. He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft on the web.
You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.