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Position Breakdown: Centers

A GIGANTIC return to the Auburn frontcourt!

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Congratulations, we’ve made it through another week! I hope that these previews have helped you get at least as half as fired up as I am for basketball season. We close our series by looking at the Auburn Centers. If you’ve missed any of the other articles from this week: here’s your one stop to see them all!

From Monday: Point Guards

From Tuesday: Shooting Guards

From Wednesday: Shooting Forwards

From Thursday: Power Forwards

There are several players making “comebacks” on this year’s roster. Anfernee McLemore returns from injury. Danjel Purifoy returns from suspension. Multiple players elected to “comeback” after passing up the NBA. Well, this next player is both coming back from suspension AND passed up the NBA. And no question, he is the BIGGEST guy to “comeback” to this year’s Auburn team.

#50 Austin Wiley, Junior, 6’11”, 260 pounds, Hoover, Alabama

First of all, if this picture doesn’t excite you about the prospects of Wiley this year, then I’ve got nothing else worth saying.

At long last, Auburn fans are going to get to see a full season of Austin Wiley playing for the Orange and Blue. Wiley joined the team in December of 2016 and after practicing with the team for only a few days, he made his collegiate debut in a game against Mercer, a game the Tigers won on a T.J. Dunans buzzer beater. While at times it was up and down for him, Wiley was able to get a year of playing in the SEC underneath his belt in the Spring of 2017.

In his freshman season, Wiley averaged 8.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in about 18 minutes a game. He shot 58.4% from the field in that season. Overall, not bad for a guy who started his career at Auburn as a 17 year old. The first time we really saw Wiley become a dominant force was against Alabama on January 20, 2017. He had 19 points, 9 rebounds that afternoon and really made his presence felt in a game Auburn won by 20. Here’s a fun highlight reel to watch from that game. You’ll see a trio of dunks from Wiley in this clip (:28, and then back to back clips beginning around :50). But please stay to watch Patrick Keim hit a buzzer beating 3 to cap off the 20 point victory!

He recorded his first career double in the next game against South Carolina (10 points, and 11 rebounds) but had his best game in an Auburn uniform on the road against TCU. Wiley scored 25 points that evening, 21 in the second half, and added 7 rebounds in a win over a Horned Frogs team that won the NIT that season.

He spent the summer of 2017 playing for Kentucky coach John Calipari on the U19 World Cup team in Egypt. He was the captain of that team and averaged 10.3 points and 10.9 rebounds in that tournament leading the U.S. to a Bronze Medal. Last year was supposed to be Wiley’s breakout season. Instead, the suspension happened, and we didn’t get to see him on the court last year. Currently, he’s nursing a foot injury, but he is expected to be ready in a few weeks. While he may not be ready for the opener, it sounds like he should be ready to go in the early part of the season. When Wiley finally does take the court, he’ll have the opportunity to take over a year’s worth of frustration of not being able to play out on his opponents.

One thing that Wiley has hopefully worked on is his free throw shooting. Wiley was just a 49.1% free throw shooter his freshmen year and I imagine he will spend a lot of time there this year. Wiley’s certainly motivated to return to the court and improve his NBA Draft stock. He’s also been motivated by the preseason awards as he was not selected for either the 1st or 2nd team Preseason All-SEC teams which brought this response from the center.

If Wiley can stay healthy, he is ready to unleash havoc on the SEC and the country this season. I imagine this will be the last year we see Wiley in Auburn because he has a very good chance to be a 1st Round Draft Pick next June, so enjoy him Auburn fans.

#0 Horace Spencer, Senior, 6’8”, 225 pounds, Philadelphia

Last, but certainly not least, is senior Horace Spencer. To begin, while I have Horace on the Centers preview, he will likely see more time at the 4 spot this year. I think you will see Horace, Anfernee McLemore and Chuma Okeke all spend time at both the 4 and 5 this year depending on game situations. The one great thing about Horace is that he doesn’t sugarcoat things. Check out this quote he made a few weeks ago...

Horace Spencer has been one of the most unselfish players that Bruce Pearl has had here in his tenure at Auburn. Last year, he started the season as a starter and after 6 games, Coach Pearl made a change in the starting lineup and replaced Spencer with Anfernee McLemore. Spencer accepted his new role and became a huge piece off the bench for last year’s team. Before I go any further, have I mentioned that he has no problem dunking on his teammates?

Spencer averaged 4.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in about 17 minutes a game last year for the Tigers. He shot 52.3% from the field last season and was 2nd on the team with 43 blocks and 38 steals. Spencer was also a much improved free throw shooter. After shooting only 50% from the line his sophomore season, he improved to 72% last year. Horace had a 3 game stretch at the end of non-conference play and the SEC opener where he was either a point or rebound away from compiling 3 consecutive double-doubles. Against Connecticut, Cornell and Tennessee he scored 9, 12, and 10 points while also grabbing 10, 9, and 9 rebounds respectively.

Horace tied his season high of 12 points in the home win over Ole Miss and had 11 points and 6 rebounds in the SEC clincher over South Carolina. And while I tend to avoid talking about this game, he also had 10 points and 9 rebounds in the season finale against Clemson in the NCAA Tournament.

While the numbers are nice, Horace is a defense first guy. From his first collegiate game where he had the game winning block against UAB, to his career block and steal numbers, Spencer’s game is predicated on defense. With Auburn losing one of their best defenders down low in Desean Murray, this make Spencer’s role on defense even more important this season. One other thing you may see out of Horace this year, more 3-pointers. Based on this clip from practice a few weeks ago, Horace has been working on his 3-point shot in the offseason. He tried a grand total of ONE 3-pointer last year.

In conclusion, I cannot wait for College Basketball season to start! We are down to 18 days until the season starts November 6th against South Alabama. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these roster breakdowns as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. War Eagle!