The Stretch 4: UAH preview, more Flanigan hype, guard experience and Pearl on Cohen
Auburn basketball returns home Wednesday night for an exhibition against an in-state D-II opponent. Here's what you need to know ahead of the unofficial opener.
Note: This is yet another experiment with a newsletter format. It’s similar to the Offseason and Preseason Observations for football and basketball, just for times I want to do it during the season. For now, I’m calling it The Stretch 4 — four hoops stories in a single newsletter — after my favorite position in basketball. If you particularly enjoy this style, let me know in the comments below.
SF Allen Flanigan (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
It’s been almost eight full months since Auburn played a basketball game in front of fans inside its home arena.
The last one was a celebration. Auburn defeated South Carolina by 11 and celebrated an outright SEC regular season championship after the final buzzer sounded. Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler were there. Fans who weren’t in Auburn — or couldn’t get tickets — were able to watch the party on TV.
Things are going to be different Wednesday night, when the Tigers unofficially open their season with an exhibition game against in-state Division II foe UAH. Smith and Kessler, now in the NBA, have been replaced by Yohan Traore and Johni Broome. The exhibition won’t be televised.
But a lot of familiar faces are back, playing and coaching in front of an Auburn crowd again. The most successful program in the SEC over the last five years is returning a large amount of experience on both the roster and Bruce Pearl’s coaching staff.
“This is the first time they'll be in front of our fans,” Pearl said Tuesday. “So will they change? Will all of a sudden a shot that hasn’t been a good shot be a good shot when you're playing in front of your family and girlfriend and your fanbase?
“That's just part of why you have a public exhibition. So you can get a chance to let the crowd and let The Jungle kind of energize us, but still kind of play within the framework of what we need to do.”
That framework is evolving. Pearl says he has a starting five in mind for the exhibition, but it’s “not necessarily the same five for the opener on Monday” against George Mason. Auburn will want to play 10 to 12 guys against UAH, and Pearl thinks that number could rise to 13.
“Still in the stages of kind of evaluating,” Pearl said. “We'll certainly play to win, but I will definitely be playing a lot of people — and may even mess around with the starting lineup.”
The Tigers will get a chance to show most of the deepest roster in a line of really deep ones for Pearl. Freshman wing Chance Westry will not play and is “a few weeks away” from being back fully from a knee surgery he had in early October.
But Auburn will get to show off the more experienced versions of Wendell Green Jr., Zep Jasper, K.D. Johnson, Allen Flanigan, Chris Moore, Jaylin Williams, Dylan Cardwell, Stretch Akingbola and Lior Berman — plus the Arena debuts of Traore, Broome and Tre Donaldson.
Auburn played its final game of the Israel tour on August 8. The Tigers recently had a private scrimmage against UAB, yet it’s been quite a while since they got a true game-like environment in front of fans.
“I just want to go out there and get a feel,” Green said. “I haven't played in front of our fans in a while, so I just want to go out there, get a feel and play as hard as I can. That's the No. 1 thing: Do whatever it takes to win, don't underestimate anybody. So just go out there and try to win.”
What is Auburn expecting from its exhibition matchup against UAH? Why has there been high praise recently for one particular returning veteran? Which single stat about Auburn’s guards really stands out? And what does Pearl think about the hire of new athletic director John Cohen?
Find out in the first — and hopefully not the last — edition of The Stretch 4.