After a 2-1 showing in the Maui Invitational, the Auburn Tigers returned to Auburn Arena after a week off from competition. They are seeking a strong finish in non-conference play to keep up the early season momentum.
The Tigers were dominant right from tip off against Saint Peter’s opening the game on a 10-0 run. Auburn improved their record to 6-1 with a blowout win over the Peacocks and will look to keep up the dominant play against UNC Asheville next Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs have a 1-5 record currently and will travel to UT Martin on Saturday before making the trip to Auburn. They are ranked #328 by KenPom, so Auburn will be continuing to integrate Austin Wiley in to the rotation as he comes off an ankle injury and season long suspension during the 2017-18 season.
He has shown continuous improvement after sitting out the season-opener against South Alabama. Wiley has struggled with staying out of foul trouble coming off the bench committing three against Washington, Duke, and Arizona while fouling out of Auburn’s OT victory against Xavier.
Auburn’s next test will be on December 8th against Dayton. The two teams met last season at Dayton where Auburn won 73-60. Auburn’s leading scorer in that game was Mustapha Heron who transferred this offseason to St. John’s. The Flyers only return two of their five starters from last season but did return Josh Cunningham who is averaging 14.5 points per game. Dayton is a top 100 KenPom team and will have faced tough competition in Virginia, Oklahoma, and Mississippi State leading up to the Auburn game.
Auburn will then take a short trip to Birmingham to face UAB who has become a very familiar foe for the Tigers. Auburn is on a five-game winning streak against the Blazers winning by a total of 26 points. UAB lost a key player in Chris Cokley who scored 26 points and recorded nine rebounds in the 2017 contest. For the Tigers, they will return a very important piece on December 15th when they face UAB.
Danjel Purifoy will make his return after sitting out all of last season and the first nine games this season. He was allowed to play in Auburn’s exhibition against Lincoln Memorial where he only played 17 minutes and scored five points. Purifoy will look to make an impact when SEC play rolls around. This will be more of a neutral site contest than a home game for UAB as many Auburn fans will make the two-hour drive north.
The Tigers will face their first true road test when they travel to Raleigh, North Carolina to face NC State. North Carolina State boasts a KenPom ranking of 33 and could potentially be added to Auburn’s resume. Through seven games, the Wolfpack have outrebounded their opponents by 13.1. It will be a physical battle between the two teams in mid-December.
Auburn returns to Auburn Arena on December 22nd to face Murray State. The Racers have one of the best players in the country in Ja Morant. He is a projected top 10 pick in the NBA draft and has impressed scouts throughout the season. Morant is a lights out shooter averaging 27.8 points per game and can take complete control of a game by himself.
To go along with the great shooting, he has dished out 36 assists through four games. Auburn will look to force turnovers as he has committed 26 of them and the Tigers force almost 20 per game. This is another game that Auburn would really like to add to their resume when March rolls around.
North Florida will travel to Auburn Arena on December 29th for Auburn’s final non-conference contest. The Osprey’s face a tough schedule including teams like Dayton, Penn State, Florida, Minnesota, and Florida State. Statistically, they are a team that allows their opponent to shoot the three ball which fares well for Auburn. So far this season, North Florida opponents are shooting 44 percent from three.
It was extremely important for Auburn to not have a slow start after their Thanksgiving tournament in Maui. "It's been seven days since we've played and obviously when you leave Maui, there's a tendency to get a little Polynesian paralysis," Coach Bruce Pearl said. "But our kids didn't play to the opponent. We tried to focus on ourselves.” Auburn will face tougher opponents down the road, but they will continue to gel together as a team and the return of Danjel Purifoy will be welcome as SEC play nears.