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November 9, 2012

Five to watch as Auburn opens hoops season

AUBURN, Ala. — They will take their lumps. But the Auburn men’s basketball team hopes to gain some experience in the process.

The Tigers aren’t expected by preseason pundits to escape the SEC basement, after finishing 5-11 and tied for tenth in the league standings last year.

But with a nice mix of experienced veterans and excitable freshmen and transfers in the fold, Auburn coach Tony Barbee does expect his team to improve on last year’s 15-16 mark.

The journey begins tonight at Auburn Arena against Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne, with tipoff slated for 8 p.m. in a game that can be viewed on AuburnTigers.com.

With a deep squad, it’ll take some time to formulate a firm starting five.

“We base it on who does the little things to win us games.

“It won’t all be determined off these two (exhibitions),” Barbee said.

“It will be determined in practice as well. Our starting lineup will probably be a fluid situation all year long until some guys come along and establish themselves.”

Auburn looks to increase last year’s scoring average of 62.6 points per game, but continues to focus on holding down opponents on its own side of the floor.

“We cover for each other most of the time, and we’re more athletic defensively than last year’s team,” senior forward Noel Johnson said. “(We need) more communication. That starts with the veterans.”

Five key players

#23 Frankie Sullivan, Sr., G. Some nights he will attack, some nights he will distribute, some nights he’ll do whatever else is needed. He’s the clear leader and leading returning scorer (12.6 ppg.)

#41 Rob Chubb, Sr., C. Yes, there’s a couple capable big men who can spot him. But Chubb has to stay effective, stay durable, and stay out of foul trouble as Auburn’s lone big man threat in the post.

#2 Allen Payne, Jr., F. At 6-foot-6, he might be asked to play the four position when the Tigers go small-ball. His shooting makes that an exciting proposition.

#10 Jordan Price, Fr., G. The coup of a sturdy, deep recruiting class, Price offers pure scoring off the bench. He just needs to fit in defensively when Auburn mixes man and zone.

#3 Chris Denson, Jr., G. The Shaw product is academically ineligible through the end of the first semester.┬áBut if he gets his grades in order, he could return to the game court as soon as Dec. 11 vs. Grambling State, the Tigers’ first game in December.

Five key games

Nov. 15 – vs. Murray State at Charleston Classic. The Racers went 31-2 last season, the final Division I squad to lose a game during the regular season, and feature preseason All-American point guard Isaiah Canaan

Jan. 2 – vs. Florida State. The Seminoles open the year ranked No. 25 after winning the always-stacked ACC Tournament last year

Jan. 19 – vs. Kentucky. Defending national champion lost a lot, but picked up a lot in recruiting. Always a show when Coach Cal comes to town

Feb. 2 – at Missouri. The Tigers’ first test against their new conference compatriot, and Mizzou Arena should be a great atmosphere

Mar. 2 – vs. Vanderbilt. Auburn’s only appearance on the top two ESPN networks this year, and if the Tigers progress as they hope, postseason bids will be on the line

Five key numbers

108 – the Tigers romped over Victory University 108-57, their highest point total in any exhibition or real game in 13 seasons

25 – Frankie Sullivan’s 1,091 career points ranks 25th on the all-time school scoring list

5.4 – Junior college transfer Asauhn Dixon-Tatum led all of NJCAA Division I with 5.4 blocks per game in 2011-12 at Chattahoochee Tech

.302 – Auburn made just 30.2 percent of its 3-pointers and shot 64.8 percent from the free-throw line in 2011-12.┬áBoth figures ranked second-to-last in the SEC

2000 – Guard Doc Robinson was the last Tiger to be named to the AP all-SEC first team, more than a decade ago in 2000

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