Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of articles previewing the Auburn basketball season.
AUBURN, Alabama–While Auburn and other basketball teams in the SEC are expected to have their hands full with preseason favorite and fourth-ranked Kentucky, the Tigers plus three other teams will also open their schedules ranked in the AP Top 25.
Last season Kentucky was picked to win the league title in the SEC Basketball Media Days poll, but the Wildcats finished behind the Tigers, who were selected to finish fifth. This year Auburn is picked fourth with Arkansas at No. 2 and Tennessee picked third.
Arkansas and Tennessee handled the Tigers on their homecourts for two of Auburn’s three conference losses in 2021-22. Razorback fans stormed the court on Feb. 18th when knocking off the No. 1 ranked Tigers 80-76 in overtime in front of 20,327 fans at Fayetteville. On Feb. 26th the Tigers lost 67-62 at Tennessee.
Auburn’s other regular season conference loss was on Feb. 19th, 63-62 at Florida.
Arkansas, which is ranked 10th in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, made a run into the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight last season. However, the Razorbacks have a very different looking roster. The top returnee is Davonte Davis, a 6-4, 185 junior guard, who averaged 8.3 points and 3.7 rebounds while playing in 37 games with 14 starts.
The rest of the key players who led Arkansas to postseason wins over Vermont, New Mexico State and Nevada before losing to Duke must be replaced.
The top replacement is potential one-and-done combo guard Nick Smith, the No. 3 ranked prospect in the 2022 signee class, according to 247Sports. The 6-5, 185 Smith, an Auburn player tried hard to sign out of the state of Arkansas, averaged 14.8 points during the Razorbacks’ exhibition tour to Spain this summer.
Trevon Brazile, a 6-10, 212 sophomore transfer from Missouri, barely missed a shot on the tour, hitting 29-34 field goals while averaging a team-high 15.8 points per contest.
Another transfer expected to be an impact player for the Pigs is 6-6, 205 forward Ricky Council, IV, who averaged 9.9 points and 4.6 rebounds at Wichita State where he was named the American Athletic Conference Sixth Man of the Year.
Somewhat surprisingly, Tennessee is picked to finish behind the Razorbacks because Coach Rick Barnes returns four starters from a team that was the SEC Tournament champion and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee’s 12 scholarship players average 41.9 games of collegiate experience.
The Vols return All-SEC guard Santiago Vescovi, who is 6-3, 192 from Montevideo, Uruguay. He averaged 13.3 points and 3.2 assists as a junior.
Another senior, 6-6, 224 guard Josiah-Jordan James, was an All-SEC Tournament pick. He averaged 10.3 points and a team-high 6.0 rebounds. A strong defensive player, he has been limited in the preseason by a knee problem, but is expected back in action soon.
The front line features one of the biggest players in the league, 7-1, 265 senior Uros Plavsic from Serbia, who averaged 4.0 points and 4.2 rebounds along with 6-8, 232 junior Olivier Nkamhoua from Finland, who averaged 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds.
An early indication that the Vols can be an elite team was their 99-80 exhibition victory over No. 2 Gonzaga in a neutral site game played on Friday night at Frisco, Tex. The Vols got 26 points from Tyreke Key, a 6-2, 211 grad transfer guard from Indiana State, in the surprisingly lopsided victory vs. the Zags.
The other SEC team in the AP?Top 25 is Alabama, which is forecast to finish fifth, according to the SEC Media Days poll. Auburn swept its home-and-home series vs. the Tide last season.
Numbers of Notes: As Auburn’s head coach, Bruce Pearl is 7-5 against Tennessee, the team he coached from 2005-06 through 2010-11.
Did You Know? In 27 years as a head coach, Pearl’s teams have finished first or second in their conference 18 times.
Numbers of Notes: Jabari Smith, the third player taken in the NBA Draft, is known as an outstanding shooter, but he wasn’t the most accurate free throw shooter on the Auburn 2021-22 team. Smith took the most free throws (164), but his 79.9 percent average was topped by Wendell Green (84.4 percent on 147 attempts), Jaylin Williams (81.8 percent on 33 free throws) and Zep Jasper (81.0 percent on 42 free throws). Green, Williams and Jasper are expected to play key roles for the 2022-23 Tigers.
Last Shot: Opponents hit just 38.6 percent of their field goals vs. Auburn last season, which put the Tigers at the top of the SEC along with LSU, a team that will look very different this season major roster turnover plus a new coaching staff.
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