Charleston Classic preview: Auburn will set the tone for the season in the Holy City

Todd Van Emst

We'll discover a lot about the Tigers over the next few days.

Auburn tips off play at the Charleston Classic Thursday at 7 p.m. CT against Murray State at TD Arena. For the Tigers, it's a chance to make an early-season statement and prove that they are ready to take a big step forward this season.

When given the opportunity, Auburn's newcomers showed the ability to score at will in the preseason-opening win over Victory, most notably Jordan Price. Jordon Granger and Asauhn Dixon-Tatum show flashes of defensive prowess to come, however, as evidenced in the second exhibition game against Georgia Southwestern and the season opener against IPFW, there is much work to be done this season. Head coach Tony Barbee did not bring in a guy under 6'3 in the most recent recruiting class, and while the length is great, the baby Tigers are not quite there in terms of defense. Barbee continues to rely on his veterans for defense, and as predicted, they continue to struggle on offense. The notable exception to that statement is Frankie Sullivan. He scored 26 points on 11 of 20 shooting against IPFW. The game that showcased his ability to lead his team to a win in spite of a slow start and an offense that never really got good and hot. It was refreshing and downright exciting to see him calling for the ball and taking over the game.

There is still not enough known about this team to give solid predictions about conference play or even postseason thoughts. A lot more will be known after Thursday's game; Murray State is a huge test for this team. To begin with, Murray State knows how to win. The Racers did not lose until early February last season and were the only team in the nation to go undefeated on the road. After winning the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season and tournament titles, they lost to Marquette, 62-53, in the NCAA Tournament's Round of 32. Murray State graduated three key seniors -- Jewuan Long, Donte Poole and Ivan Aska -- and while it remains to be seen if they can be as successful this year, the Racers are still the heavy favorites to win the OVC for the fourth year in a row.

Murray State has a suffocating defense. Senior Ed Daniels, a preseason All-OVC selection, can not only rebound and block, but he can score from the paint with ease. In the Racers' opener against Brescia, he had 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists. The 6'7, 228-pound Woodlawn High graduate begins the season ninth on MSU's all time list for blocked shots. He only hits 59.5 percent of his shots from the free-throw line, but he can hit the shots when needed the most -- Daniels hit the winning shots in the OVC Tournament final against Tennessee State last season with a minute remaining.

Along with Daniels, the Racers have this kid you may have heard of, a point guard named Isaiah Canaan. Last season, Canaan took 25 percent of his team's shots. No big deal, right? He averaged 20.6 points per game (second in the OVC), made 98 of 215 3-point shots (first in the OVC) and was third in the conference with 120 assists. In addition to be able to score at will, Canaan is an effective game manager and hits 83.7 percent of his foul shots. He is 41 3s away from becoming MSU's all-time leader and was selected by various publications as a preseason All-American.

Senior guard Stacy Wilson, forward Brandon Garrett, and junior guard Dexter Fields round out the projected starting lineup for the Racers. In the opener against Brescia, Wilson scored 21 points. Wilson is not considered the "replacement" for Poole, but he is expected to be like Poole and step up when his team needs him the most. Fields, a McDonald's All-American nominee, may be familiar to some of you Birmingham folk, as he played 29 games as a UAB Blazer in 2010-11. Expect freshman guard Jeffrey Moss and redshirt swingman Tyler Rambo to come in off the bench.

One thing is obvious: If Auburn starts off slow like it did in the preseason finale and regular-season opener, this is a game that can get out of hand quicker than bourbon in a handle at our tailgates. Murray State is a proven team, and its entire lineup has several years experience playing together. Auburn's starting lineup consists of four seniors and one junior -- Sullivan, Josh Wallace, Rob Chubb, Noel Johnson and Allen Payne -- but when Barbee reaches to his bench, it is full of new guys -- Price, Brian Greene Jr., Dixon-Tatum, Shaquille Johnson, Granger and Shareif Adamu. While Auburn's roster features more talent than it has had in years, there are serious concerns going into this game. In no particular order:

The defense has to be ready to go. Murray State will come out on fire and hit Auburn with offensive skill that easily surpasses what the Tigers saw in the season opener. Canaan can shoot from anywhere on the floor, and Daniels can turn offensive rebounds into points. Adamu was praised in the summer for his physicality, Granger for his length and Dixon-Tatum for athleticism, and Chubb brings two-plus years of experience to the table. Which player will be the enforcer against the Racers?

Limit the fouls. Limit the fouls. Limit the fouls.

Make free throws. Make free throws. Make free throws.

Murray State has a nasty, ugly defense. For an Auburn offense that has struggled in the past two seasons and in the last two games, it is time for the chosen shooter to step up and assume his position. A lot of hope has been placed in Price, and hope has been restored that Sullivan can be the game-changer, but are these two enough to get the Tigers past the Racers?

If Auburn shows up and shows out, this game could be the fire-starter for a breakout season for Barbee. If the Tigers fall in a close game, it is still evidence that Barbee is building the foundation for Auburn. A loss at this point in the season won't make or break a team, but in a game against a good team like the Racers, the overall performance definitely indicates what to expect in the upcoming months.

Quick thoughts on other matchups

Dayton and Colorado seem to be hovering in the middle of their respective conferences. The Flyers won their season opener at home against Arkansas State on Saturday, 74-61. Vee Sanford and Josh Benson scored 18 and 14 points, respectively, but they both picked up four fouls. Dayton needs these two to stay out of foul trouble to have a chance to win. Colorado opened with a 74-59 home win over Wofford and held the Terriers to 36 percent shooting. The Buffaloes received rebound production from plenty of sources, as four players pulled down at least five boards, and no one picked up more than three fouls. In a physical game, the team that avoids foul trouble will have the advantage.

Baylor, predicted to finish near the top, if not the top, of the Big 12, meets a young Boston College that should finish the season near the bottom of the ACC. With a strong Baylor backcourt to compensate for any missteps in the less proven frontcourt and a fantastic bench, it will be a long afternoon for Boston College.

For a St. John's perspective, see what Rumble in the Garden has to say about the Charleston Classic

Only three teams separate St. John's and Charleston in the College Basketball Prospectus 2012-13 rankings. Ten teams sit between St. John's and Detroit, and Detroit put up quite the fight in the season opener on Tuesday at St. John's, as the Red Storm escaped with a narrow 77-74 victory. With St. John's expected to finish in the bottom of the Big East and Charleston to be near the top of the Southern Conference, Detroit showed that the the Red Storm could be vulnerable. St. John's should come on strong and finish with a win in the first round round, but if the red Storm slip, Charleston should be ready.

2012 Charleston Classic (Bracket)

Thursday, Nov. 15

Game 1: Dayton vs. Colorado, 11:30 a.m., ESPN3

Game 2: Baylor vs. Boston College, 2 p.m., ESPNU

Game 3: St. John's vs. College of Charleston, 4 p.m., ESPNU

Game 4: Murray State vs. Auburn, 7 p.m., ESPN3

Friday, Nov. 16

Game 5: W1 vs. W2, 11:30 a.m., ESPNU

Game 6: L1 vs. L2, 1:30 p.m., ESPNU

Game 7: W3 vs. W4, 4:30 p.m., ESPN3

Game 8: L3 vs. L4, 6:30 p.m., ESPN3

Sunday, Nov. 18

Game 9: L6 vs. L8, 11 a.m., ESPN3

Game 10: W6 vs. W8, 1 p.m., ESPN3

Game 11: L5 vs. L7, 5 p.m., ESPNU

Game 12: W5 vs. W7, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2

Charleston Classic Finale

Wednesday, Nov. 21

Auburn at Boston College, 3 p.m., ESPN3

Saturday, Nov. 24

Charleston vs. Baylor, TBD, ESPN3

*All times are CT

How the Teams Stack Up
School Basketball Prospectus Conference Blue Ribbon Projection
Auburn 101 SEC 8 of 14
Baylor 25 Big 12 2 of 10
Boston College 171 ACC 10 of 12
Charleston 80 SoCon (South) 2 of 6
Colorado 66 Pac-12 5 of 12
Dayton 94 Atlantic 10 7 of 12
Murray State 49 OVC (West) 1 of 6
St. John's 76 Big East 12 of 15

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