Auburn faces IPFW in regular-season opener

Todd Van Emst

The Tigers and Mastodons tip off at 7 p.m. Friday night.

The Auburn men's basketball team tips off its season at Auburn Arena Friday night against the Summit League’s IPFW Mastodons. The projecting starting lineup consists of Frankie Sullivan, Josh Wallace, Rob Chubb, Allen Payne and Noel Johnson. Based on the two preseason games, expect to see Asauhn Dixon-Tatum come in for Chubb at center, Shareif Adamu and Jordon Granger sub out with Payne and Johnson at forward, and Shaquille Johnson and Brian Greene Jr. to relieve Sullivan and Wallace.

IPFW’s clear leader is 6'5, 195-pound senior Frank Gaines. Gaines, a Florida native, was the ninth in the nation for scoring last season. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that he, at large stretches through the season, was heavily relied upon as the Mastodons only offensive weapon. While he did make 44.7 percent of his shots, he outshot the rest of his team by over 200 attempts. Gaines is a preseason first-team All Summit League selection and a definite candidate for Summit League MVP. He looks for open lanes and has a knack for making his shot and picking up the foul. Tony Jasick, in only his second year as a head coach, has added a little more depth this year in the pickup of three true freshmen and four transfers. Without a proven scorer other than Gaines, it could be a long night for the Mastodons.

The Mastodons, in terms of size alone, are more of a match for Auburn than Victory turned out to be. If they are able to come out strong like Georgia Southwestern, it gives pause to the thought that Auburn may struggle to get into an offensive rhythm and establish a defensive statement early. Sullivan looks to be gearing up for a good season, as evidenced by the return of his 3-point shot and some quickness coming back into his step. Wallace has improved his shooting and remains that annoying defender, and while he may lack in length, he can still beat a guy with speed. Chubb had a strong night against Victory, but he was unable to score or defend without fouling against GSW. Tonight needs to be a night in which he plays like the All-SEC center that Barbee expects.

It was evident in the exhibition games that Barbee relies on the veterans for defense and the new guys for offense. However, Dixon-Tatum shows the most potential in regards to blocking. Granger has the length and should develop nicely as an additional guy for defense. Price is the pure shooter that could be the key to a winning record this season and Shaq makes gravity seem like nothing more than a word. Greene hasn’t been able to put up good numbers in exhibition play, but for now, it can simply be dismissed as a slow start.

The biggest question for Auburn in the early part of this season: How will Barbee mesh his older and younger guys together? When the baby Tigers pick up their defensive game, they will command playing time. But right now, Auburn's more experienced players, despite struggling at times on the offensive end, will be asked to do more. If Barbee can find away to get his team to play offense and defense at the same time, the Tigers will take a big step forward.

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. CT. The game will not be televised, but it is available on AuburnTigers.com. For a list of radio affiliates, click here.

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