The No. 24 Auburn Tigers come into the 2019-20 season hoping for another Final Four run, but head Bruce Pearl and the Tigers are not overlooking the non-conference slate ahead this week.
The Tigers will tip-off their season Tuesday night against Georgia Southern at Auburn Arena. Auburn will then travel to Annapolis, Maryland, for the Veterans Classic against Davidson before facing South Alabama on Nov. 12.
Auburn’s first three games will reveal a lot about the team, and beginning with Georgia Southern, Pearl knows the Tigers will have to be sharp to come away with victories.
“I can tell you if we have some success I am going to be really pleased with where we are,” Pearl said.
Under head coach Mark Byington, Georgia Southern is 4-2 in season openers, but the Eagles are 0-7 in the all-time series with Auburn. Georgia Southern was picked to finish third in the Sun Belt preseason poll, and are returning ten players from last year.
“This is a team who has got experience, and they know how to go on the road and win,” Pearl said.
The Eagles are excellent at attacking the rim as well as shooting on the perimeter, and last year they finished fourth in the country in field goal percentage at .499.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
The Eagles are led by a talented guard tandem in first-team All-Sun Belt selection Quan Jackson, and Ike Smith, who is the only player on the roster that played in the last matchup with Auburn in 2015. Georgia Southern will also rely on senior forward Isaiah Crawley who averaged 11.6 points per game last year.
Pearl was complimentary of Crawley’s game and is aware of how tough it will be to guard him.
“He's an undersized inside player and whether he's playing four or five, he's just gonna be a real handful for us,” Pearl said. Auburn hosts Georgia Southern tonight in Auburn Arena.
After the Georgia Southern contest, the Tigers will face a talented Davidson squad in the Veterans Classic. The Wildcats finished with a 24-10 record last year, and ended the season with a loss in the NIT to Lipscomb. Davidson is led by a talented guard duo in Jon Axel Gundmundsson and Kellan Grady who are both on the preseason Naismith Trophy watchlist.
Gundmundsson finished fourth in conference scoring last year and was the only player in the Atlantic 10 Conference to record a triple-double last year. Gundmundsson was the first player to record a triple-double for Davidson in 46 years which came against Rhode Island.
Gundmundsson’s backcourt mate, Kellan Grady, was recently named to the Atlantic 10’s first team All-Conference team. Grady averaged 17.3 points per game last year and was named the Atlantic 10 player of the week on three separate occasions. The Tigers will look to defeat a nationally-respected Davidson program on Nov. 8 in Maryland
After the Veterans Classic Auburn will face South Alabama in Mobile. The Jaguars are the preseason favorite to win the Sun Belt, and senior Trhae Mitchell is a big key to South Alabama’s success.
Mitchell was voted the preseason conference player of the year, and last year he led the team in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Mitchell is no stranger to doing the dirty work for the team, and he thrives on the defensive end of the court, averaging 2.1 blocks per game last season.
The Jaguars will also look to junior forward Josh Ajayi for scoring, who averaged 16.4 points per game last year. Ajayi was very efficient with a shooting percentage of .560, enough to earn him the highest percentage in the conference. Auburn will finish the three-game slate this week in Mobile against the Jaguars on Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. CST.
No. 24 Auburn is predicted to finish fourth in the SEC, but the non-conference tests this week should give fans an idea of what the team will look like following the most successful basketball season the program has ever had.
“Three games, seven days, all really good and experienced opponents,” Pearl said. “It is gonna be extremely eye-opening.”
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman