Auburn hosted Montevallo Friday night for our preseason basketball exhibition. You know Auburn fans are excited about basketball when 8,187 packed the Arena to watch Auburn take on the Falcons. Auburn predictably won big, 96-68.
What, if anything, can we learn from this game?
First, we know that our starting lineup is going to be very young. Auburn started freshmen Danjel Purifoy, Jared Harper, and Mustapha Heron, Sophomore Horace Spencer, and Senior TJ Dunans.
Jared Harper earning the day one starting job over senior transfer Ronnie Johnson surprised me. Johnson started 59 of 66 games at Purdue and averaged nearly ten points per game at Houston last year. The two split playing time fairly evenly, but Harper showed why he earned the nod on the floor. Harper is incredibly fast. His game is a work in progress but he's starting from a good spot.
Second, we know that Purifoy and Heron are as good as advertised. Purifoy broke double-digits in scoring six and a half minutes in. He finished with 18 points and 7 boards in 24 minutes of play. He's an old-fashioned hustler who's not afraid to draw contact.
Heron finished with 26 points and 6 rebounds in 20 minutes played. He is an incredibly smooth player. He drives well and shoots well from outside. His stroke is so clean, it surprises me when his shots don't go in.
Third, Auburn is prioritizing rebounds. When Auburn took shots, there were usually two Tigers in the lane looking for the rebound. No one was bailing out for transition defense. For the last two years, only Bowers wanted to rebound consistently. Auburn should be able to get more second chance points this year.
Fourth, Auburn is going to press. Auburn showed full-court press several times in the first half. The results fell short of "40 Minutes of Hell" but with an undersized, athletic team, Auburn is going to press more often this year than they have in the past.
Fifth, the team has chemistry issues to work out. I don't want to imply that the team isn't getting along. What I mean by chemistry is learning to work together as a team and anticipate the other teammates' moves. Auburn had several unforced turnovers where a driving player made a good pass that bounced off of a surprised teammate's body. These things happen when you have talented young players who haven't played together very much.
I left the Arena feeling optimistic. This is a team with a lot of work to do before it arrives in Cancun but this is a talented, young, deep team. If we can avoid the injury and discipline issues that plagued us last year, this is an Auburn team that will compete respectably in the SEC this season.