Without stars Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy, Auburn hasn't had a tumultuous start to the regular season on the court that might have been expected after a loss to D-II Barry in the exhibition opener.
The Tigers are 6-1, with their only loss coming to the Temple Owls, a squad that has since downed ACC Clemson, along with SEC South Carolina, a group that made the NCAA Final Four last season.
A December 23 matchup against the UConn Huskies in Auburn Arena is the premiere matchup circled on the calendar, but head coach Bruce Pearl isn't overlooking Wednesday's showdown with Gardner-Webb.
"I think they're better offensively than they are defensively, they're shooting 49 percent the last five games," Pearl said Tuesday. "They make the three ball, we've struggled to guard the three ball."
The Running Bulldogs are coached by Tim Craft, who served as an assistant coach and Director of Basketball Operations on The Plains during the tail end of former Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo's stint as a Tiger.
The 40-year-old Craft is regarded around the NCAA as an up and coming coach with a bright future ahead of him, according to Pearl.
Despite the high praises, Pearl doesn't want a repeat of Barry: a smaller program getting the best of his Auburn Tigers at home.
"It's a good opponent, it's an opponent that if we play well, we should beat," Pearl said. "But who's going to be more excited about playing? Finals are next week, UAB next Saturday. This could be a trap game, but we're not approaching it that way. We respect our opponent, and we know that they can really score."
Spearheading the Tigers' defensive efforts to halt that scoring will be freshman foward Chuma Okeke. Last year's Mr. Basketball in Georgia was named the SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday for his rebounding and upstart offensive prowess in wins against George Mason and Dayton.
Auburn is still without Wiley down low, who shot 58 percent from the floor and corralled five boards a game last season. In his absence however, the Atlanta native Okeke is fourth on the team in scoring and accounted for 48 percent of Auburn's rebounding the last two games.
Considering the freshman that come into the SEC at powerhouses like Florida and Kentucky, Pearl recognizes the importance of a new face getting into a groove early in the season.
"It's really exciting," Pearl said. "Last year, Jared [Harper] was Freshman of the Week a couple times. Mustapha [Heron] made the All-Freshman team. In a league of really talented freshman. He didn't pick up big numbers, but the win at Dayton was a big win. I don't think the individual stuff matters to him at all, but it's a nice recognition."
Coming to the forefront of Auburn's playmaking on both ends of the floor is junior transfer Desean Murray. Like Okeke, Murray was a highly touted prospect who is putting up big contributions as an athlete experiencing Auburn basketball for the first time.
And, like Okeke, Murray is coming off the bench, despite averaging nine points and eight rebounds a night through the first seven games. Guard Davion Mitchell, who is contributing a solid six points per outing, comes off the bench for Pearl as well.
"It's not about me liking them coming off the bench," Pearl said. "I think Desean has a strong personality and presence. Maybe this year, Chuma will get in the starting lineup, just because it's cool to hear your name called with the other guys.
"Chuma just wants to play, both he and Davion were highly recruited kids. They haven't said one word about not starting, they're both playing significant positions."
Auburn Athletics is still working through an FBI investigation into the men's basketball program that has kept Wiley and Purifoy off the floor.
Danjel Purifoy (3) looks to make a pass during Auburn Men's Basketball vs. Florida on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017 in Auburn, Ala. (MADISON OGLETREE / PHOTO EDITOR)
Last week, Purifoy tweeted his discomforts, claiming that he was being treated unfairly. Purifoy was not present at practice due to "focus on academics."
"I'm staying as patient as I can, staying hopeful," Pearl said. "I really feel bad for the kids. It breaks my heart to see those guys not be out there, but it's a process we have to go through."