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February 29, 2012

Beyond the Arc: Alabama 55, Auburn 49

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Auburn’s problems on the road have been well-documented this season. Too many times, when the Tigers are playing away from Auburn Arena, Auburn has played teams down to the final three or four minutes before going cold on the offensive end.

And even though Alabama had overwhelmed Auburn in the first meeting between the two teams, an impressive defensive performance from the Tigers kept Auburn in the game this time around. Late in the game, Auburn was tied with Alabama, and the Tigers held the Crimson Tide to just 31.1 percent shooting and a season-low 14 field goals.

Auburn (14-15, 4-11 SEC) never found the offense to put the Crimson Tide away. Kenny Gabriel led the Tigers with just 10 points. He and Frankie Sullivan, the team’s two leading scorers, combined to make just 8-of-27 shots from the field, and Auburn was abysmal from the free-throw line. Auburn only made 5-of-12 free-throw attempts.

“We just couldn’t score,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “That’s kind of been the story all year.”

Alabama responded to Auburn’s defense by making free throws. The Crimson Tide made 24-of-32 free throws to help seal the win.

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  • For the first time since Auburn played Vanderbilt to open SEC play, Willy Kouassi was given major minutes, and he responded with arguably his best performance of the season. Kouassi had only averaged 2.5 minutes-per-game in Auburn’s 14 SEC games, but he turned 17 minutes of game time into four points, five rebounds and three blocks against Alabama. “He’s performed well in practice,” Barbee said. “He’s shown a lot of energy. A lot like Chris Denson last year, he’s finally showed a grasp of what we were doing.” Barbee went on to say that he thought Kouassi, a very raw talent, can go on to be one of the best big men in the SEC if he learns to improve.
  • Speaking of Denson, Barbee lifted his suspension after one game — Varez Ward was still unavailable — and the Shaw product finished with nine points. “Kids have to learn a lesson,” Barbee said. “This is bigger than sports, it’s about life… He had to suffer consequences for some bad decisions, but he made his way back, and I thought he played some big moments.” For somebody whose game is to get to the basket, Denson has to get better at the free-throw line. He was only 1-of-6.
  • Noel Johnson had only made 3-of-26 3-pointers this season — he missed his first 14 attempts of the year — but he came up with 3-of-6 shooting and nine points against Alabama. With Allen Payne and Josh Langford both injured, Johnson may have to play extended minutes (he played 27) again. “I was ready for the challenge,” Johnson said.
  • Gabriel was extremely critical of his own performance after the game. “I just take the blame for it,” Gabriel said. “I had some bad plays down the stretch. Coach was trying to go to me in the post, and I passed it out. I should have been aggressive, tried to make some people help and then kicked it out, instead of trying to force stuff. I turned the ball over with four minutes to go. In the first half, I couldn’t make a shot. I guess I started losing my confidence, and as a basketball player, you can’t do that.”
  • Frankie Sullivan addressed Auburn’s problems at the end of games late in the interview session. “In this game, we played great defense, we just folded at the end,” Sullivan said. “That’s what we’ve been doing all season.

Basketball preview: Auburn vs. Alabama

Photo by Todd Van Emst

The dominant story of tonight’s basketball game between Auburn and Alabama is simple.

Nobody knows exactly who is going to play for the Tigers when they take the court at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa tonight. Allen Payne and Josh Langford are both out due to injury. Chris Denson and Varez Ward could be out due to an indefinite suspension for a violation of team rules, although Denson briefly tweeted last night that he was back with the team, only to take the tweet down later.

Either way, Auburn (14-14, 4-10) will be short-handed tonight against a Crimson Tide team that has been surging of late. Payne’s surgery to repair a torn left lateral meniscus suffered against Arkansas was the latest blow to a team that has really struggled with injuries this season, and every game Langford misses due to the concussion suffered against Arkansas on Jan. 25 makes it clear he suffered a pretty bad head injury.

What Auburn can do against Alabama (19-9, 8-6), then, depends on who’s available. Right now, we know the Tigers will have Kenny Gabriel, Frankie Sullivan, Rob Chubb, Josh Wallace, Noel Johnson, Adrian Forbes, Willy Kouassi and Tony Neysmith available. That’s a pretty thin lineup, especially in the backcourt, but we may not know any more before tipoff. Barbee is unlikely to show his hand until Auburn gets on the court at the Coleman Coliseum.

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Auburn vs. Alabama

  • When: 8 p.m. ET tonight
  • Where: Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
  • TV: SEC Network
  • Last time out: Arkansas 71, Auburn 77; Alabama 67, Mississippi State 50
  • Series Alabama leads 88-56

Matching Up

  • Center: The last time these two teams met, Anthony Grant inserted 6-8, 250-pound freshman Nick Jacobs into the starting lineup to help match up with Auburn’s size rather than go small and try to beat the Tigers that way. In that game, Jacobs only had two points and five rebounds, but after Chubb started the game out hot, he couldn’t get anything going the rest of the way. Even so, Chubb offers a little more offensively than Jacobs. Edge: Auburn.
  • Forward: Kenny Gabriel’s back should almost be back to normal after having a couple of days to rest following a solid Saturday performance against Arkansas. Gabriel looked his freakishly athletic self, dunked three times and put one down one-handed while being boxed out. Against Alabama, though, the job gets much tougher. JaMychal Green exploded for 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the first meeting between the two teams, and he’s played well since coming off the suspension. Edge: Alabama, slightly. Green offers more offensive potential.
  • Swingman: This is where it gets real dicey when trying to predict what Barbee and Grant will do with their starting lineups. For Auburn, the obvious replacement in terms of position is Noel Johnson, who is only averaging 1.5 points and 1.6 rebounds this season, but if Denson is available, Barbee could go small. On the other side, Grant has Phenix City’s Rodney Cooper, who averages 5.6 points but has the capability for big games. Edge: Alabama.
  • Guard: Frankie Sullivan still leads Auburn in scoring, and he had a solid game with 15 points against Arkansas, but he has struggled on the road. Sullivan is only shooting 29.6 percent away from Auburn Arena this season. On the other side, Grant will likely counter with Levi Randolph, who averages only 6.3 points but is capable of an outburst like the one he had against Mississippi State — 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three steals. Edge: Auburn.
  • Guard: Trevor Releford did not start on Saturday, but he is Alabama’s point guard, and he rode the free throw line to 15 points in the first meeting between the two teams. Josh Wallace is a good on-the-ball defender, but he works better in a tandem with Varez Ward, who may or may not be available for tonight’s game. Wallace offers little in the way of scoring. Edge: Alabama.
  • Bench: Even if Ward and Denson are available, the loss of Payne leaves Auburn painfully short on depth going into this game. Only Alabama’s Tony Mitchell should be unavailable, but the Crimson Tide have played better without him, and Grant has a few solid options off the bench both inside and outside. Edge: Alabama.

My pick: Hard to pick Auburn’s 1-9 record in away games against an Alabama team trying to get into the NCAA Tournament.

February 28, 2012

Breaking down the (presumably) complete 2012 Auburn recruiting class

Now that Alex Kozan has turned in his letter of intent and become the 21st member of Auburn’s 2012 recruiting class — Auburn counts Illinois transfer Jay Prosch among the recruiting class, but for the purposes of this blog, we’re only looking at incoming freshmen — it’s time to take a look back at a class that has been built over the course of the last month.

First of all, the recruiting sites have updated their rankings for the 2012 class to reflect Kozan’s signing. Except for ESPN. ESPN’s rankings people apparently spent Monday night watching Juan Pablo Montoya crash into a jet dryer, which, admittedly, made for good TV. Like the blog, the recruiting sites base their rankings only on incoming freshmen.

A quick examination of the position breakdown for Auburn’s 2012 signees shows a couple of areas that the Tigers obviously felt they had a need. Offensive line, to be sure, where the Tigers signed seven players and put together the nation’s second-ranked offensive line class. On national signing day, Gene Chizik highlighted the offensive line as the one position the coaching staff felt they needed to add some numbers to shore up a lack of depth.

The other spot is quarterback, and the numbers crunch was made necessary by Barrett Trotter’s decision to forego his final year of eligibility at Auburn. When Trotter made that decision, he left only two scholarship quarterbacks on Auburn’s roster — Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier — and Auburn felt like it needed four quarterbacks in the program. To fill the extra spot, the Tigers offered a spot to Central-Phenix City quarterback Jonathan Wallace along with the already-committed Zeke Pike.

Four players have already arrived on campus and enrolled. Pike, offensive linemen Shane Callahan and Patrick Miller and linebacker Javiere Mitchell all enrolled early and plan to go through spring practice, although Mitchell is recovering from shoulder surgery for an injury suffered last season. An official update on his status likely will not be available until spring practice.

And for those who count Prosch among the class, that’s a pretty significant addition. Prosch is already a proven player, and he’s the kind of guy who’s built to block SEC linebackers in the hole and open creases for the running backs. How he will be used is still a work in progress; new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is still putting together his playbook.

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Auburn’s 2012 Recruiting Class

Quarterback

Running back

Wide receiver

Tight end

Offensive linemen

Defensive line

Allen Payne likely out for the season after surgery

Auburn sophomore forward Allen Payne underwent surgery to repair an injured left lateral meniscus Tuesday, Payne revealed on Twitter. The surgery was performed at the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, Fla.

“Out of a successful surgery,” Payne tweeted. “Big thank you to Dr. James Andrews.”

Payne also indicated that he’s likely out for the rest of the season one game after scoring 15 points, pulling down seven rebounds and handing out three assists in the best all-around performance of his career at Auburn.

Payne, a defensive stopper, is averaging 4.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 0.9 assists, and he had recently found his role on defense after being benched in the middle of the season due to ineffectiveness.

Early in the second half, though, Payne injured his ankle, and he played through the rest of Auburn’s 77-71 loss to Arkansas, although he was not as effective as the game went on.

With Payne out — and fellow small forward Josh Langford also likely out after indicating on Twitter that his concussion would keep him out of the Alabama game — Auburn only has Noel Johnson available at the small forward.

Auburn coach Tony Barbee has also not revealed whether or not suspended guards Varez Ward and Chris Denson will be available for Wednesday night’s Alabama game.

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February 27, 2012

Signee profile: OL Alex Kozan

Alex Kozan, an offensive lineman who verbally committed to Iowa two days before Feb. 1 before having second thoughts on national signing day, has announced that he will sign with Auburn.

Kozan’s signing finishes off Auburn’s class at 21 players and makes him the seventh offensive lineman to sign with the Tigers in the 2012 recruiting class.

Kozan failed to attend Valor’s signing day ceremony because needed more time to pick from a group that included Auburn, Iowa and Michigan.

The addition of Kozan to the 2012 signing class gives the Tigers seven offensive linemen in the 2012 recruiting class, a third of the overall number of 21 players still out there.

Kozan, a 6-4, 295-pound offensive lineman who played tackle in high school but probably projects better as a guard at the collegiate level, is a four-star prospect from Valor Christian High in Castle Rock, Colo., the same state that already yielded fellow 2012 signee and early enrollee Shane Callahan.

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    • Committed: Feb. 3, 2012
    • Recruited by: Jeff Grimes
    • Also considered: Iowa, Michigan
    • Rivals: 12 position, 5 state
    • Scout: 16 position
    • ESPN: 23 position, 6 state
    • Quotable: “It’s been a great process. All three are great schools academically and athletically,” Kozan told ESPN.com. “I’m blessed to have the opportunities I have.”

Here’s a scouting report from ESPN.com:

What Kozan brings to the table is a high football IQ and excellent fundamentals. He is a solid pass protector and a great run blocker, primarily when pulling. Kozan’s gift, however, may be his desire to improve every practice — which could explain why he can play the guard, tackle and center positions on the offensive line effectively. This guy displays the aggressive finishing attitude we look for when evaluating offensive linemen. Kozan may need some time to adjust to the move inside however once he settles into the guard spot we see him having a long and successful career at the BCS level of play.

Auburn adds fifth commitment for the 2013 recruiting class

Dothan, Ala. defensive back Kamryn Melton verbally committed to Auburn’s 2013 recruiting class on Monday.

Melton, who had 63 tackles and an interception, also had offers from Kentucky, UAB, South Alabama and Jacksonville State. As a sophomore, he made 26 tackles and picked off three passes, and he returned 12 punts for 319 yards and two touchdowns.

Melton’s commitment makes two verbal commitments Auburn received as a result of this weekend’s Junior Day activities. Four-star wide receiver Earnest Robinson of Pinson Valley, Ala., committed on Saturday.

Melton reportedly wanted to commit Saturday, but he had to leave Auburn before meeting with Gene Chizik and Brian VanGorder, which Auburn requires from a prospect before accepting his verbal commitment.

Two  of the recruiting sites that cover Auburn — AuburnSports.com and AuburnUndercover.com — reported the news first, and reported that Melton returned to Auburn Monday to finish off his meetings with Chizik and VanGorder.

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Auburn 2013 Commits

  • Jimmy Hutchinson, P, 6-2, 175, Kennesaw, Ga. (Harrison High) NR* — top-ranked kicker in class
  • Trey Johnson, LB, 6-1, 220, Lawrenceville, Ga. (Central Gwinnett High), 4-star/4/4
  • Dee Liner, DT, 6-2, 255, Muscle Shoals (Ala.) High, 4-star/4/4
  • Kamryn Melton, DB, 5-11, 176, Dothan (Ala.) High, NA/NA/3
  • Earnest Robinson, WR, 6-3, 200, Pinson Valley (Ala.) High, 4-star/4/4

The status of Chris Denson and Varez Ward is still up in the air

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Two days before Auburn travels to Tuscaloosa to take on in-state rival Alabama, the status of suspended guards Chris Denson and Varez Ward is still undecided.

Neither player practiced Monday, but Auburn coach Tony Barbee would not rule out the possibility of the two playing. Ward and Denson were suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules before Auburn’s loss to Arkansas Saturday.

In the first game against Alabama, Ward and Denson combined to shoot 2-of-9 and score seven points.

Barbee said the decision would be made in the next 24 hours.

“Before we get on this bus to go up to Tuscaloosa tomorrow,” Barbee said.

In additional news, forward Josh Langford is still unavailable due to a concussion suffered against Arkansas on Jan. 25. Langford is still suffering from sensitivity to light and recurring headaches that have kept him out of the lineup for more than a month.

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February 26, 2012

NFL Combine: Brandon Mosley, Josh Harris turn in solid workouts

Right now, almost all of the NFL Combine buzz surrounds the skill position players who are working out today. Not to repeat what the national media has already blanketed Twitter, but Robert Griffin III is really fast, LaMichael James is a little faster and Andrew Luck is surprisingly fast in the 40-yard dash.

But we’re all going to be hearing about those guys for the next couple of months.

With their portions of the workouts already completed, it’s time to look back at the two Auburn players who participated in the combine. Offensive tackle Brandon Mosley and long snapper Josh Harris both made the trip to Indianapolis this weekend.

Mosley is rated as a mid-round prospect, and Harris is the draft’s top-rated deep snapper, even though he is unlikely to get drafted in April. For the moment, though, both players have gotten a chance to go through the battery of tests the NFL can put together, and the results are in.

Both players performed well in their time under the microscope.

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Brandon Mosley, OT

Measurables

  • Height: 6-6
  • Weight: 314
  • Arm length: 34 inches
  • Hands: 11 inches

Workout

  • 40-yard dash: 5.21 seconds (7th among offensive linemen)
  • Bench press: 30 reps (tied for 10th)
  • Vertical jump: 27 inches
  • Broad jump: 103 inches (11th)
  • 3-cone drill: 7.43 seconds (3rd)
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.78 seconds

NFL.com’s Analysis:

OVERVIEW

Mosley has not been playing tackle long, as he played defensive end and tight end at Coffeyville Community College who converted to the position after signing with Auburn. He continues to develop both physically and with his skill set, and has some traits that make him a late-round prospect. Expect him to possibly be selected in the seventh round by a team with the depth and patience to develop his big body on the outside.

STRENGTHS

Mosley is good to mirror the defender and keep his man in front of him. He is not a violent blocker but can move people enough to create a hole. He has played in a spread offense where he was responsible for walling defenders off and getting to the second level, which he excels at.

WEAKNESSES

Mosley is a clear developmental prospect for two reasons: He hasn’t played the position long, and he played in a spread offense which is far from conventional for an NFL tackle. He will have a serious developmental phase and would have a tough time playing immediately.

Josh Harris, LS

Measurables

  • Height: 6-1 3/4
  • Weight: 252
  • Arm length: 31 3/4 inches
  • Hands: 10 inches

Workout

  • 40-yard dash: 4.93 seconds
  • Bench press: 15 reps

NFL.com’s Analysis:

OVERVIEW

Harris was one of the most accurate and consistent long snappers in the country. In the NFL, consistency is key at the long snapper position, along with velocity and snap time. Harris has both of these, and the chances are good that a team could take the uncommon step of drafting him in the late rounds.

ANALYSIS

STRENGTHS

Harris is very accurate and has good velocity. He did not have any faulty snaps at the collegiate level and is very reliable. He has good spin on his ball, and it shows that he knows how to vary his heights based off whether he is kick or punt snapping. He has good size and speed to get downfield and be a factor in coverage — an all-around prototypical long snapper.

WEAKNESSES

Harris is yet to show many weaknesses in his game, hence the reason why he is a draftable long snapping prospect. He struggles in his lateral movements when trying to throttle down and make tackles downfield, but he obviously won’t be heavily relied upon to do this.

 

 

February 25, 2012

Beyond the Arc: Arkansas 77, Auburn 71

A disturbing pattern has developed over Auburn’s streak of five losses in its last six games. The Tigers have started quickly in several games, including Saturday’s 77-71 loss to Arkansas, then faded badly in the second half. Normally, it’s the offense that fades down the stretch, and Auburn did have its fair share of problems offensively late against the Razorbacks. Frankie Sullivan badly missed a couple of 3-pointers late in the game, Auburn had a key turnover that bounced off of Rob Chubb’s hands and the Tigers were only 11-of-21 from the free-throw line in the second half.

But the defense’s inability to keep its momentum going cost the Tigers dearly on Saturday. In the first half, Arkansas shot 50 percent, but the Razorbacks had to work for their points, and they turned the ball over eight times to help start Auburn fast breaks. In the second half, Arkansas only turned it over five times and consistently beat Auburn’s defenders off the dribble to get to the basket.

With two games remaining in the SEC schedule, Auburn (14-14, 4-10) now finds itself in two dubious fights to put a signature on the end of this season. Games against Alabama and LSU next week will likely decide whether or not Auburn can finish over .500 in  head coach Tony Barbee’s second season, and a win in either of those games would give the Tigers at least one more victory than last season’s SEC win total.

Neither will be easy without the services of suspended guards Varez Ward and Chris Denson, who did not play in Saturday’s game against the Razorbacks.

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  • Ward and Denson’s suspensions leave Auburn hopelessly thin on the bench. Of the three reserves that played Saturday, only Adrian Forbes can be cosidered a regular contributor, and he’s averaging just 2.4 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. Noel Johnson has not been the impact player Barbee hoped for when he transferred from Clemson, and Tony Neysmith has barely played. With Josh Langford still suffering from the effects of a concussion suffered a month ago, Auburn is woefully thin right now. “There was definitely a lot of fatigue out theree, but there isn’t much I can go to on the bench, either,” Barbee said.
  • Auburn center Rob Chubb came up with his best performance in weeks. Chubb scored 11 points, grabbed seven rebounds, blocked a shot and only turned the ball over once. Like the rest of the team, Chubb tired in the second half, but he still came up with several buckets in key moments. Now, the trick is getting him to replicate that production next week.
  • Allen Payne continues to leave the benching of midseason behind him. Against an Arkansas team full of perimeter players, Payne came up with his best game in an Auburn uniform. He scored 15 points, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out three assists, and it seems like he’s figured out what he does best on the offensive side of the ball. At his best, Payne is a guy who needs to be running to the rim, where he can use his athleticism to score in the paint, rather than take the jump shots he favored early in the season.
  • Not surprising, but it’s a huge fall-off from Ward to Neysmith at the point. Neysmith doesn’t have the quickness to beat people off of the dribble, and against a pressing team like Arkansas, that’s a huge liability. In 12 minutes, Neysmith had three assists, but he didn’t record any other stats.
  • Kenny Gabriel’s back looked fine. By my count, he had three dunks, and he was running to the rim for putback slams like he normally does. As the game went on, his back seemed to loosen up, and he even tried to take several charges — he took one charge successively — indicating his back is good to go, and will probably be healthy for next week.

Varez Ward, Chris Denson suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules

Varez Ward and Chris Denson have been suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules, Auburn coach Tony Barbee said in the postgame interview following Auburn’s 77-71 loss to Arkansas Saturday.

Barbee does not know whether or not either player will be back before the end of the season.

“I’ll decide when they join the team again,” Barbee said.

Neither player was in attendance at Auburn Arena for the game.

Denson, a product of Shaw, opened the season as Auburn’s sixth man, but his production has dropped in SEC play. In his last 10 games, Denson is only averaging 4.2 points. Ward, a transfer from Texas playing in his first year  has been Auburn’s primary point guard most of the season, although he has served as a sixth man lately.

It is the second time Barbee has suspended players this season. Josh Langford and Tony Neysmith were suspended for the first eight games due to an undisclosed violation of team rules.

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