Inexperienced Auburn set to tangle with St. Joseph’s

NCAA Basketball

Inexperienced Auburn set to tangle with St. Joseph’s

An Auburn squad that doesn’t feature a single returning starter opens the season on Thursday against Saint Joseph’s in the Fort Myers Tip-Off in Florida.

Sophomore guard Allen Flanigan (three starts) is the only player on the roster who has opened a game for the Tigers, who went 26-5 last season.

Auburn is planning on relying on an acclaimed recruiting class, but consensus five-star point guard Sharife Cooper hasn’t been cleared to play.

“Sharife’s a great kid,” Tigers coach Bruce Pearl said earlier this week on “Tiger Talk.” “His initial eligibility review is ongoing, and we’re hopeful of a resolution as soon as possible.”

Guard Justin Powell and forward JT Thor also are expected to be impact freshmen from a class that is ranked ninth in the 247sports composite.

“I feel like we’ve got one of the best classes in the country,” Thor said recently. “I feel like we’re all underdogs. Everybody is an underdog, and we’re coming in with a chip on our shoulder. People are sleeping on us.”

The problem is experience, as the only returners to average more than 10 minutes per game last season are Flanigan (3.2 points, 2.7 rebounds), sophomore guard Devan Cambridge (4.2 points, 27 3-pointers) and junior guard Jamal Johnson (3.5 points, 27 3-pointers).

Auburn also has self-imposed a one-year postseason ban related to the FBI investigation into college basketball corruption that included the arrest of then-assistant coach Chuck Person in September 2017. The NCAA is investigating the Tigers and could soon be handing down additional penalties.

Saint Joseph’s is hoping to show improvement after being a dismal 6-26 last season in Billy Lange’s first season as coach.

The Hawks feature a star player in senior guard Ryan Daly, who led the Atlantic 10 with a 20.6 scoring average last season, slightly better than National Player of the Year Obi Toppin (20.0) of Dayton. Daly also averaged 6.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

Daly would like to see more victories in his final college campaign. Among the Hawks’ returners are sophomore guard Cameron Brown, who averaged 10.1 points and made 52 3-pointers. The latter mark was second behind Daly’s 56.

“I think our potential is through the roof to be honest,” Daly says. “Usually people make their jumps in their second year together. First year you’re feeling everyone out. We had a rough year record-wise, but we were in a lot of those games and I think we’re going to learn how to win this year and we’re gonna surprise some people for sure.”

Top-ranked Gonzaga and No. 6 Kansas are also part of the field and square off Thursday. Auburn is slated to play Gonzaga on Friday and Saint Joseph’s will face Kansas.

–Field Level Media

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