The Stretch 4: Health concerns, opener rotation, scouting George Mason and a freshman focus
Auburn basketball's first competitive game of the season will be against a very intriguing mid-major team — and it should be a real test of the Tigers' increased depth.
SF Allen Flanigan (Jacob Taylor/Auburn Athletics)
Bruce Pearl started Auburn basketball’s press conference before Monday night’s season opener against George Mason with a joke:
“So, I guess this is the part where I start preparing you guys for George Mason to win a national championship and be the best team on our schedule, so let me just take the words out of your mouth.
“But you’re right,” Pearl said with a slight grin. “That’s exactly what I’m going to try to do.”
For a team that went 14-16 last season, George Mason is a potentially spicy opening night matchup for Auburn. The Patriots are entering their second season under Kim English, the 34-year-old former Missouri guard who spent time as an assistant at Tulsa, Colorado and Tennessee.
Last year, George Mason beat Maryland by five on the road, went wire-to-wire in a 13-point win at Georgia and only lost by nine to eventual national champion Kansas inside Allen Fieldhouse. In 2017, Auburn trailed George Mason at halftime before pulling away for a 16-point win. That Auburn team went on to win the SEC regular season title and end its NCAA Tournament drought.
“They’re a talented team,” Pearl said. “They’re a really veteran team. They have three grad transfers, two seniors and one junior in their top-six players. Their top six or seven players are really, really good, and a couple of individuals that at their position will be matchups that are going to be as good a matchup as our guys will have.”
Another wrinkle in the matchup? Auburn hasn’t been able to do any specific scouting on this particular George Mason team, as the Patriots didn’t play an exhibition. And the Tigers, of course, played three games in Israel that were televised on the SEC Network.
“This is a really tough opener,” Pearl said. “It is. It just is, especially when you’re playing an older, experienced team. The good news about Israel is we had that experience. The bad news with Israel is everybody's got three tapes on us with our personnel.
“So, they all saw those games, and we have nothing on George Mason.”
On top of that, Auburn went through the first of its weekend practices Friday afternoon with just eight fully healthy scholarship players. There’s a good chance that Auburn is still at full strength — minus freshman Chance Westry, that is — for the opener, but the health situation is affecting the final days of preseason preparation.
Here’s more on that, a possible rotation for the season opener, a closer look at two true freshmen and what kind of team George Mason is bringing into the Arena on Monday night in the latest edition of The Stretch 4.