SEC Make or Break: Auburn TigersPosted by Brian Joyce on November 4th, 2011
The Make or Break series will tell us what we need to know about each SEC team by looking at the three most important non-conference games on each team’s schedule. Depending on the outcome, these three games could make OR break that team’s season because of the strengths it shows or weaknesses it could expose. The next team in the series is the Auburn Tigers.
The Auburn Tigers look to improve on what was a dismal 2010-11 season. Last season, the Tigers went 4-12 in SEC play, and were a forgettable 11-20 overall. In Tony Barbee’s first season as head coach, his team was known for its tough, hard-nosed play. But Auburn ranked second to last in the SEC in scoring offense (62.4 PPG), field goal percentage (39.8%) and 10th in rebounding margin (-0.9). The Tigers have a promising roster coming back this season, however, as they return 6’1″ guard Frankie Sullivan after a season-ending injury last year. Sullivan only played in six games last season, but averaged over 12 points per game in his freshman year. Barbee has also secured a couple of impact transfers in former Texas guard Varez Ward and former Clemson guard Noel Johnson, who will be eligible in December. If Auburn can continue its gritty play, and find a consistent offensive presence somewhere on the court, then year two under Barbee will be a lot better than the first.
The three key non-conference games that will make or break the Tigers schedule this season:
- December 2 – at Seton Hall: Seton Hall shot a Big East-worst 41.3 % from the field last season while going 13-18 overall. And that was with their top two scorers from a year ago in Jeremy Hazell and Jeff Robinson, both of whom have moved on. This season the Pirates welcome six new freshmen to the mix, and their team will most likely be trying to find its identity by the time this game is played on December 2. This is a game (as part of the Big East/SEC Invitational) that Auburn needs to win to give the Tigers a much needed confidence boost going into the rest of the season.
- December 14 – vs. South Florida: While nobody is ready to predict a substantial improvement for the Bulls, Stan Heath’s squad could be a middle of the pack Big East team this year. South Florida returns 6’10” forward Gus Gilchrist and his 13.4 points per game. But like Auburn, the Bulls are a team that struggled on offense last year, and they will be looking to establish some scorers in the early going of the 2011-12 season. A player who could emerge for USF is 6’7″ Arizona State transfer Victor Rudd who has shown signs of being able to handle some of the scoring load. Heath also returns six of his top seven scorers from a year ago, so if the Bulls are going to make a push in the Big East then this may be the year to do so.
- December 22 – at Hawaii (in Honolulu, Hawaii as part of Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic): Hawaii is optimistic about its chances this year as they return three starters from a surprising season a year ago. Guard Zane Johnson averaged 15.8 points per game last season for the Warriors, and he can really light it up from beyond the arc. Playing Hawaii in Honolulu could be a challenge for the Tigers, but this game is also important because of the level of competition that awaits in the second and third rounds. Auburn will have a chance to measure its progress against the likes of Xavier, Kansas State or Clemson. Coming back from Hawaii with at least one win and some hard-fought battles to help the Tigers improve for the SEC conference schedule would be a success.