BY WIL CREWS
Auburn basketball is enjoying life to start the 2022-23 season. Ranked No. 15 in the most recent AP Poll with a record of 7-0, the Tigers have earned an average margin of victory of 13 points, while scoring 70.14 points per game and allowing just 57.
Those numbers place the Tigers right outside the top 50 in scoring margin, well outside the top 50 in scoring offense and at No. 17 in scoring defense. It’s obvious at this point in the season what the team’s strength is: defense. And to be honest, Auburn’s perfect 7-0 record is rather beguiling.
As the stats reflect, the results this season haven’t always been pretty. The defensive battle against Northwestern that finished 43-42 in favor of Auburn in Cancun was particularly maddening. Nonetheless, the Tigers, record-wise, are where they want to be with five more games to play before SEC competition begins.
Overall, head coach Bruce Pearl and his staff have done a solid job at reloading the talent on Auburn’s roster. With the departures of last year’s standouts Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler via the NBA draft, this rendition of Auburn’s basketball team lacks the top-end talent of last year’s record-setting squad. One thing it does have, however, is depth.
So far, Pearl has deployed an 11-man rotation this season. The starters have been Wendell Green Jr., Zep Jasper, Chris Moore, Jaylin Williams and Johni Broome. The guys coming off the bench have been K.D. Johnson, Allen Flanigan, Dylan Cardwell, Yohan Traore, Chance Westry and Tre Donaldson.
The group is composed of one graduate student, two seniors, four juniors, one sophomore and three freshmen. Therefore, there’s plenty of youthful exuberance to match the experience on this year’s Tigers.
But questions still loom; the biggest of which is where the Tigers will find consistent offense. Just about the only player providing that so far has been Green, and to an extent, maybe Broome — they both are the only two Tigers averaging double-digit points scored. But as a big man with limited range, Broome cannot be relied on to post 15-plus points every night. Moreover, his work on the defensive end should be his biggest priority.
Look for help to come from Johnson, who hasn’t quite lived up to his Pre-season All-SEC 2nd Team honor. The rest of the squad, namely the experienced Flanigan, Williams, Jasper, Moore and Cardwell, will be asked to do more on the offensive end as well.
The top-end potential of the team is probably tied to the freshmen on this team, however. The highly rated Traore and Westry and Donaldson have yet to “click” with the returning Tigers. If Pearl and company can harness their raw talent, and turn it into impactful minutes, Auburn will be in the thick of things at the top of the SEC. If not, the Tigers may look more like the 2020-21 team (that finished 13-14) than the Final Four and No.1-ranked Tigers of 2018 and 2021-22.