GAME 01: Monday, November 7th, 2022
#15 Auburn Tigers vs George Mason Patriots
Neville Arena - Auburn, AL
Time: 7:00 pm CST/8:00 pm EST
Network: SEC Network+/ESPN+, Auburn Radio Network
Betting Odds: Auburn -10.0, Over/Under 140.5 via Draft Kings Sportsbook
(Odds/lines subject to change. Visit DraftKings for more information.)
Despite the much-appreciated remonstrations from Cadillac Williams in making us care about Auburn football this past weekend, many of us have been waiting to anxiously to see the product that Bruce Pearl is going to put on the floor to follow up another championship season.
Yes, friends, Auburn basketball has returned!
We deserve it. Bryan Harsin made the last two months nearly unwatchable, and all we had to cling to was the hope that only the phrase “BOUT THAT TIME” can conjure. And now here we are.
Auburn gave us fans a glimpse last week of what we can expect to see in the 2022-2023 season, and it was something that can easily grow into a deep and consistent monster that carries the crown of a defending conference champion very well. With the loss of Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler, both first-round NBA Draft selections, the vacuum on Auburn’s roster needed an infusion of talent, and Bruce Pearl delivered.
Johni Broome comes in from Morehead State and brings with him a double-double average from last year. Standing at 6’10, he’ll help replace Kessler’s production in the middle with new starter and Jungle favorite Dylan Cardwell. Broome has been battling an ankle injury, and we may not see much of him tonight. Still, there’s plenty of talent to go around. Yohan Traore, a former LSU commit and five-star prospect out of high school, switched his pledge to Auburn after the mess in Baton Rouge, and figures to start at the 4-spot tonight. Also new to the team are Trey Donaldson, who posted 10 points and 7 boards off the bench in last week’s exhibition win over UAH, and Chance Westry, who underwent surgery recently, and likely has another couple of weeks before he takes the floor for the Tigers.
These new faces are in addition to a team that will look wholly familiar to Auburn fans. The guards are all back — Wendell Green, Zep Jasper, K.D. Johnson — and should provide a crucially experienced core to help steady the team and take on true leadership roles. Also returning are Jaylin Williams, who led all scorers with 16 points in the exhibition, and Allen Flanigan, who seems to have returned to his old form before the surgery. Flan can provide a piece of the puzzle that Auburn didn’t always have last season — a guy that can just get you a damn bucket when things aren’t working. Chris Moore got the start in the exhibition, and he’s fully healthy once again as well. Let’s not forget the man in the middle, Dylan Cardwell, and his impending rivalry with K.D. for title of on-court hype man this year.
Auburn isn’t going to be playing some patsy tonight. George Mason comes to Neville Arena for a showdown that should produce some tense moments and a close game throughout until the Tiger talent hopefully overwhelms.
Of the five projected starters, they have two seniors, and those are the young guys, with three graduates slated to start. Not to mention, these are guys that played SEC ball extensively.
DeVon Cooper comes from Morehead State, where he posted 11.6 ppg last season. At 6’4, he’ll give Auburn a little trouble in matching up with our smaller perimeter guys.
Victor Bailey Jr., and Davonte Gaines are both big guards too, and both formerly of the Tennessee Vols. Gaines at 6’7 averaged 10.2 ppg and 8.1 rpg last season, so he’ll be a matchup nightmare in keeping him off the glass. There’s also Ginika Ojiako who slid over from Virginia Tech in the middle. An excellent foul shooter, we don’t want our centers to be getting into foul trouble and sending this guy to the line, but this is a spot where Auburn can likely have an advantage with Cardwell.
Then there’s Josh Oduro, averaging 17.7 ppg and 7.5 rpg, who might draw Traore for a good portion of the evening. It’s a big test for the freshman going against this senior for George Mason, but an opportunity to show why he was a five-star prospect.
As for the Patriots, their 2021-2022 season was interesting. After starting 4-0 and beating Maryland on the road, they played Kansas tough in Lawrence and beat Georgia (who didn’t?). Then things fell apart after a 4-1 start to A10 conference play. A 92-90 overtime loss at home to Saint Louis started a 3-8 limp to the finish line, and Patriots missed postseason play after a first-round exit in the conference tourney.
Still, they return experience with 57% of all minutes played coming back, as well as 60% of all scoring hitting the floor on the Plains tonight, and we’ll be seeing a team that reminds us of the Jared Harper/Bryce Brown days. They were a top 10% team in terms of three-point attempts, and they were 66th in the country in makes last year. Something that Auburn can exploit, though, is that GMU opponents were among the tops in the land at offensive rebounds. The Tigers should be able to get multiple opportunities to clean things up and work out the kinks with a frontcourt that still needs some time to gel.
This game is close into the early stages of the second half, and then Auburn will start to use that depth a little more and the crowd helps on a couple of key buckets here and there. Threes take a little time to get going, but Auburn hits enough, and Dylan Cardwell has a game that cements him as a star-to-be in the conference this year.
Auburn 78, George Mason 66