SEC Preview: Auburn

Auburn won 24 games last season and Jeff Lebo hopes that same magic number will get them into the Big Dance this year.

Note: Scout.com went to its experts at each of the 12 SEC schools to put together preseason scouting reports for all the league teams while also polling our writers to determine their picks to win the division and overall league titles.

 

 

By Mark Murphy

Inside The Auburn Tigers

 

Despite returning three starters on a roster that features five seniors, coach Jeff Lebo’s 2009-2010 Auburn basketball team is expected to have a very different look.

  

Four freshmen and two sophomores are additions to the squad and each of those newcomers is expected to play a key for a team that must replace a trio of four-year contributors– forward Korvotney Barber and guards Quantez Robertson and Rasheem Barrett.

  

After making a strong run late in the season to put themselves on the NCAA Tournament bubble, the Tigers had to settle for an NIT bid, 24 wins and some momentum as they head into a new season with many of the key players returning.

 

SEC Previews:
  • LSU Preview
  • Alabama Preview
  • Ole Miss Preview
  • Mississippi State Preview
  • Georgia Preview
  • Vanderbilt Preview
  • South Carolina Preview
  • Florida Preview
  • Tennessee Preview
  • Kentucky Preview

  • “We had so many meaningful games coming down the stretch,” Lebo says. “Every game seemed to grow with importance, and we handled that very well coming down the stretch so for our guys coming back and being able to play in those kinds of games, I think that is going to be very valuable for our group.

      

    “We have a taste of what it was like, a taste of success, a taste of postseason and also a taste of not making it to the NCAA Tournament,” the coach says. “They are hungry. We had a good offseason, and the kids have worked hard so it is going to be very helpful for the guys that played for us last year.”

      

    Lebo returns one of the top guards in the league in senior DeWayne Reed, who averaged 13.2 points per contest and was a steady performer at the point. The coach contends that Reed was the league’s most improved player last season.

      

    Returning starter Lucas Hargrove, a versatile 6-6, 220-pound forward, is expected to be a key player. He averaged 8.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and played strong defense as a junior.

      

    Another returning starter is 6-2 senior guard Tay Waller, a long-range shooting threat who made 100 treys last season and averaged 12.1 points. Frankie Sullivan was an immediate contributor at guard last season as a freshman averaging 7.6 points per game while playing his best ball down the stretch.

      

    Another newcomer on last year’s team who picked up his play late in the season is 6-10 center Brendon Knox. Although he averaged just 2.5 points and 1.7 rebounds, he has the potential to significantly improve those numbers as a senior if he can avoid foul trouble, something that plagued him as a junior.

      

    More help inside could come from 6-8 senior Johnnie Lett, who was a starter early in the season but missed the stretch run with an ankle injury. Known mostly as a defensive player, he averaged 2.8 points and 3.4 rebounds.

      

    A pair of transfers are expected to push for starting spots. Kenny Gabriel, a 6-8 sophomore forward with a nice shooting touch and good hops, is coming off a strong season at Paris, Tex., Junior College. Tony Neysmith is a 6-5 sophomore guard who redshirted last year after transferring from Oklahoma.

      

    Lebo will be relying heavily on a quartet of athletic freshmen for depth. That group includes 6-5 guards Andre Malone and Earnest Ross, 6-9 forward Ty Armstrong and 6-10 center Rob Chubb. All have won praise from the coach for their performances in preseason workouts.

      

    “Defensively, I think Earnest Ross and Andre Malone are physically ready,” Lebo says. “I think early, like most freshmen, they will struggle when we start to add things, but they've been good so far. They are physical. They can shoot the ball from the perimeter, but they have to work on the ball handling a little bit, and they have to work on defense.

      

    “Kenny Gabriel is a guy who was coached well in junior college. He can really shoot the ball being 6-8. We'll be able to do some things with him like the ‘pick and pop’ and the three pointers. He has a good knack for the ball, but he just has to get stronger. He is long. He has a 7-1 wingspan so he can get his hand on a lot of balls.

      

    “Our inside guys, Rob Chubb and Ty Armstrong, they will get better as the year goes on,” added Lebo. “They are both physical. Chubb can run. They are a little farther away, but I think they'll get better as the year goes on. Both are 6-9 and 220 so when we walk through the airport this year, we'll look like an SEC team. I hope we play like one.”

     

     

    SEC Predicted Order of Finish

     

    SEC East

    1. Kentucky

    2. Tennessee

    3. Florida

    4. South Carolina

    5. Vanderbilt

    6. Georgia

     

    SEC West

    1. Mississippi State

    2. Ole Miss

    3. LSU

    4. Alabama

    5. Arkansas

    6. Auburn

     

    Overall League Champion: Kentucky


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