The Tony Barbee Era got off to an awful start for Auburn last season as the team suffered embarrassing home losses to low-majors UNC-Asheville, Samford, Campbell, Jacksonville and Presbyterian before SEC play even tipped off. Rome was not built in one day and neither will this basketball program, but the Tigers should be slightly more competitive this season.
While the Tigers lose three players to transfer including leading scorer and rebounder Earnest Ross, they also welcome in a pair of transfers who should make significant impacts in their first year of being eligible at Auburn. Former Texas combo guard Varez Ward has only played in three games the past two seasons after sitting out last year and suffering a season-ending ruptured quadriceps tendon in 2009-10, but he should add stability to the backcourt.
The athletic Noel Johnson comes in from Clemson but will not be eligible until after the first semester. He figures to battle for minutes on the wing with Josh Langford, who suffered through a disappointing freshman campaign.
Point guard Frankie Sullivan will add to that improved backcourt after missing all but six games a season ago due to a knee injury. Even though he is more of a scorer than true floor general, Sullivan's return at the point will be welcomed for a team that finished 300th out of 346 Division I teams in assists. Chris Denson, Allen Payne, Tony Neysmith and freshman Cedrick McAfee give Barbee plenty of options with his backcourt depth; a luxury he did not have last season after Andre Malone chose to transfer.
The frontcourt will look fairly similar to last year which isn't necessarily an encouraging sign. Kenny Gabriel, Robb Chubb and Adrian Forbes are back for another go-around while freshmen Willy Kouassi and Bernard Morena will try to work themselves into the mix.
On paper, Auburn looks like an improved team from a year ago. However, they figure to be battling with LSU to stay out of the cellar of what should once again be a competitive SEC.
Player to Watch: Varez Ward, G
Despite only being a sophomore eligibility-wise, Ward is entering his fourth year of college basketball. He started the first three games for a very talented Texas team in 2009 before suffering a season-ending injury and then sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules. He was not much of a three-point shooter in his first season-plus with the Longhorns but will give Barbee another player who can handle the rock and facilitate the offense. The combination of Ward and Sullivan in the backcourt should provide a need upgrade considering walk-on Josh Wallace was forced to play heavy minutes last season due to injuries and transfer.
Key Non-Conference Games:
12/2 at Seton Hall (SEC/Big East Invitational)
12/22, 23, 25 vs. Clemson, Kansas State, Xavier, UTEP, Long Beach State, Southern Illinois, or Hawaii (Diamond Head Classic)
I can see why people are taking a TE for the Bucs ... OJ Howard could possibly be an all pro year after year... David Njoku is right there in terms of talent.... Bucs need a receiving threat that can stretch the field.... C. Brate was a back-up TE and yes played very well to surprise many..... Looking at talent in RD1 maybe there isn`t a BETTER player available.... I have OJ ranked #9 and Njoku # 23 on the big board.... OJ Howard..B. Baker... D. Foreman is my 1st three picks for them
I don't see why the Packers pass on McKinley or Tim Williams.McKinley is the better rounded,more NFL ready,and looks as if he could be dominant.Also big enough to line up on the line of scrimmage at times.Williams may be a bit of a one trick pony,but that one trick happens to be edge rushing.He needs to be a more complete player,but his skill set is needed in Green Bay.