Auburn Hoops: 5 Keys For the 2013-14 Tigers

An analysis of what the Tigers need to do to be successful as Auburn opens the season.

Auburn, Ala.--A very different looking Auburn basketball team will open the 2013-14 regular season trying to follow the example of the football Tigers and become a surprise team in the Southeastern Conference.

For that to happen Coach Tony Barbee's players need to improve in most areas compared to last season when they struggled to win just nine games, including only three victories in conference play.

With eight new players on the roster the opportunity is there for this group to be very different than the 2012-13 squad, which did not perform up to the expectations of the players, the coaches or Auburn fans.

Here are five keys to success for this season's team, which opens the regular season on Friday with a 7 p.m. tipoff vs. visiting Nicholls State.

Improved Point Guard Play:

Last season the Tigers had just one point guard on the roster, Josh Wallace. A true team player with lots of hustle and good defensive skills, the former walk-on was not much of a threat to score, allowing teams to focus their defensive game plans on shooting guard Frankie Sullivan and other players in the Auburn lineup.

Wallace averaged 25.3 minutes of playing time per game, but finished the season with an average of just 4.1 points per contest.

Newcomers Tajh Shamsid-Deen and Malcolm Canada should make an interesting tag team duo at the point. Their combined scoring totals should be three to four times what Wallace produced last season. Both of the new guards have shown the potential to play solid defense while taking care of the basketball, something Wallace was solid at doing with a better than 2-1 assist/turnover ratio.

Shamsid-Deen is shown in action in Auburn's exhibition game vs. Victory University last week.

In last week's exhibition win over Victory University, Shamsid-Deen nailed four treys, one more than Wallace made for the entire 2012-13 season, so the freshman should give the Tigers another much-needed three-point shooting threat.

Physically, the new point guards are not a matching set. Shamsid-Deen is a small, quick and left-handed freshman who is listed at five-foot-ten on the roster, but is smaller than that. Juco transfer Canada is built like a football linebacker at 6-3, 225 pounds and has shown the potential to be able to break down defenses with his penetration and passing.

If the Tigers need more help at the position versatile transfer K.T. Harrell can move over from his role as a two-guard/wing player and direct the offense, something he did successfully in the exhibition games. That is what Sullivan tried to do last year, but the 2012-13 senior was not a good fit in that role, especially with mobility issues because he wasn't all the way back to full speed after having knee surgery.

Adapt to the Rules Change:
SEC teams have been playing a very physical style of defense for many years and the past three seasons under Barbee the Tigers were not an exception.

In an effort to make college hoops a more free-flowing game and increase the scoring, new rules were put in for this season that limit the amount of contact that will be allowed before fouls are called. If officials call games the way the rules committee envisions, there will be a significant change in the style of play and teams that do the best job of adapting should reap rewards.

A big key for the Tigers and many other teams is to avoid excessive fouling while still playing defense with intensity. The new rules could also place a premium on developing quality depth with the potential there for plenty of fouls to be called. Barbee tried a variety of different combinations and played his bench extensively in the preseason games last week and in the two August games in The Bahamas.

Chris Denson, who averaged 11.9 points per game as a junior, is Auburn's top returning scorer.

The new rules should be a plus for quick, offensive-minded guards like Chris Denson, who are a threat to drive to the hoop, so the Auburn senior needs to take advantage of his opportunities to score more this season.

Scoring Consistency:

Last season when center Rob Chubb and guards Denson and/or Sullivan were having off nights as scorers, the Tigers usually didn't have enough offensive firepower to get the job done.

Although the Tigers will miss Sullivan's 14.5 points per contest and Chubb's 8.8 points per game, the potential is there to be a better scoring team.

Bigger, stronger and healthy this year, Denson should be able to improve on his 11.9 points per game scoring average. In addition to guards Harrell, Shamsid-Deen and Canada, 6-7 juco transfer forward Chris Griffin, 7-0 center Benas Griciunas and 6-5 guard Dion Wade should combine to give Auburn the ability to improve on last year's average of 64.8 points per game, which ranked ninth in the SEC.

Last year the Tigers shot 40.9 percent from the field, which was 11th in the SEC. The 31.1 percent average behind the three-point line was 12th in the league. Other than finishing fourth in the league at the foul line (70 percent), the Tigers need to boost their shooting numbers to have a chance for a winning record.

Rebound the Basketball:

Seven-footer Asauhn Dixon-Tatum has added muscle and is up to 235 pounds, but he isn't the wide body presence in the paint like Chubb was in 2012-13. Now that he is a starter Dixon-Tatum needs to more than double his average of 3.3 rebounds per game and get plenty of help on the boards from fellow senior Allen Payne plus Jordon Granger, who has added more size and strength for his sophomore season.

Asauhn Dixon-Tatum is shown during Auburn's Jungle Jam event in October.

Freshmen Griciunas and Alex Thompson, a 6-8 walk-on forward from Dothan with good offensive skills, also have the potential to help on the boards.

Benas Griciunas makes an offensive move in practice vs. Asauhn Dixon-Tatum.

Although he is still recovering from a preseason leg injury and might be a couple of weeks away from being ready to contribute, at 6-9, 250 pounds freshman center Matthew Atewe has the potential to be a solid rebounder and shot-blocker.

Mental Toughness:

If you talk to the players about their team, it doesn't take long for the Tigers to mention that their group has "good team chemistry."

If they can keep that going throughout the season it will be a big plus, especially if it shows up in the team's will to win and make key plays in crunch time.

Last season the Tigers lost a dozen games by single digit margins, including five they could have won by making just one more shot, an indication that a little more mental toughness could mean a lot more wins.

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