Auburn opened the season with a 96-91 overtime win against St. Joe’s Nov. 26. The game was closer than most predicted, and it gave viewers a good look at Auburn’s backcourt without Sharife Cooper and its talented group of freshmen and sophomores ahead of a matchup with No. 1 Gonzaga scheduled for Nov. 27 at 10 a.m.
Thoughts on the point guards: Without Sharife Cooper, Auburn primarily used Justin Powell and Tyrell Jones as its point guards. Powell finished with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 0 assists on 40/60/100 shooting. Jones had 11 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists on 38/50/60 shooting.
Jay – Powell seemed like the steadier hand and the more ready of the two players when it came to offense. Powell is better suited for an off the ball role—thanks to his catch-and-shoot abilities—but he handled the ball and role of lead guard well. Even though he didn’t register an assist, he also didn’t register a turnover.
Jones was great when it came to moving the ball with tempo and a few good defensive possessions. He and Powell spell each other well with Powell being more suited for slow games and Jones pushing the ball more often. The vision of forward Jaylin Williams also took pressure of Jones and Powell in the assist category.
Drew: I’ve been raving about how underrated Justin Powell, but even I didn’t think we would see him play at that level this quickly. We knew he was a sniper and he showed it from deep and from the charity stripe, shooting six-for-six at the free throw line including two at the end of OT to ice the game. Powell’s feel for the game was off the charts, though. No turnovers as a freshman with that kind of usage is incredible production. How many high school players were ranked higher than him again?
I thought Turbo played well. He’s always been a tough shot maker and hit a couple tonight at important times. I’d like to see both him and Powell get more aggressive with their jumpers moving forward as they can both be utilized as “escape options” when things breakdown and the shot clock is running low. Jones showed more initiation potential than the two assists suggest too. It still looks as if he’s working on slowing the game down for himself at times, but, again, no turnovers is fantastic, especially for another combo guard playing a bit out of true position.
Thoughts on Gonzaga: No. 1 Gonzaga beat No. 6 Kansas 102-90 in Fort Myers before the Auburn versus St. Joe’s game. Auburn will play Gonzaga Nov. 27 at 10 a.m. central.
Jay – Gonzaga looked like the definition of a high powered offense against Kansas. They could shoot threes, score in transition, score from the post and anywhere else. Gonzaga’s defense wasn’t great, and Kansas got a lot of good looks and easy points. With Cooper, Auburn might be able to exploit some of those weaknesses, but it will be hard without him. I think Auburn can make some good plays, but Gonzaga looks too good for Auburn to beat this early, especially without Cooper.
Drew: I won’t sugarcoat it, the Zags are absolutely loaded. Auburn’s best performance without Cooper may not be enough. That shouldn’t be discouraging moving forward though. It is going to be a great experience for this team, not only for this season, but years beyond that as well. To use some of Coach Pearl’s vernacular, you don’t get to be “exposed” by a No. 1 program every year. It might not be pretty, but we can learn a lot from this matchup in a lot of ways.
Thoughts on everything else: Auburn had the rest of a top 10 freshmen class debut tonight and a handful of highly touted sophomores hit the court after minimal minutes as freshmen.
Jay – Jaylin Williams looked great. He made several pinpoint passes and came up with play-after-play to get Auburn into overtime and to give Auburn a lead in overtime.
Allen Flanigan also showed improvements on the offensive end, finishing with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists, and more impressively shooting 6/7 from the free throw line. There’s a lot of improvements that need to be made, but this Auburn team has the pieces to put together a fun season, even without the postseason. Adding Cooper could give Auburn another 15 points, 5-10 assists and another go to, tough shot maker, which might elevate this squad to a post season caliber team.
Babatunde Akingbola, JT Thor and the rest of the front court also played well in their first extended minutes. Akingbola, Thor and Williams all made a three, which bodes well for Auburn’s spacing and stretch concepts.
Drew: We played a ton of guys in a ton of different ways and lineups tonight. It can be hard to find a rhythm that way sometimes, but we had players step up to the plate when they were needed and that’s a big start for essentially a brand new team.
Improved spacing could take this offense to a very, very high level. Jaylin Williams is already ultra efficient scoring in the paint and distributing from all areas of the court. He would feast with a little more room to operate. Allen Flanigan would see similar benefits with his punishing style of attack around the post. Adding a Sharife Cooper to the mix would go a long, long way in stretching the floor, allowing both Turbo Jones and Justin Powell to run more off-ball offense at 2.
Physicality is going to be on our side more often than not this season. I don’t think I need to go into much detail here. Length, size, strength, speed, it’s all there in spades. Consistency may fluctuate as we grow as a team, but the athleticism and size will be a constant. That’s never a bad place to start with a team this inexperienced.