Countdown to College Basketball: #21 Auburn Tigers

Last season was a bit of a rough one for Auburn as they self-implemented a postseason ban and missed the NCAA Tournament (no they wouldn’t have gotten an at-large bid). While last season was rough, this season’s team is expected to make it back to the NCAA Tournament and have some similar success to what they had in 2019. Adding in one of the top recruits in the country in Jabari Smith, plus adding in a good collection of transfers, has this team on the right track towards having success. With a beefed-up roster, Bruce Pearl’s Tigers should have a good chance to try to knock down the doors and get back to the Final Four.

This Auburn team has one of the best frontcourts in the country and while Jabari Smith is a big reason while adding Walker Kessler was a big addition as well. Smith is a 6’10 freshman who is very long and athletic, while he has the ability to step out and shoot it. Smith’s ability to drive to the basket at his size will create matchup nightmares while him being able to pass out of likely double-teams could be key. Look for Auburn to maybe try to run their offense through him and he will almost certainly lead this Tigers team in scoring. Alongside Smith, Kessler looks to provide some interior scoring as well, a season ago Kessler was jammed behind multiple upperclassmen at North Carolina but will now get his opportunity to start. Kessler is a 7’0 center who is a good interior scorer, good rebounder, and a solid defender. While at North Carolina he showed flashes of greatness and with teams likely overplaying on Smith, Kessler should get some opportunities to score. Look for this dynamic duo to score in bunches on the interior, while many possessions they will be looking to get second-chance points off a miss. 

For backcourt help, Bruce Pearl turned to the transfer portal to try to add pieces to fill out this roster. Wendell Green looks to run the point for this team, Green is a player that has a high assist rate, is good at avoiding turnovers, while he’s a good floor-spacer as well. Green will need to push the tempo on the offensive end but seems poised to thrive in this system. KD Johnson comes in from Georgia where he was a three-point specialist and his defense helped him become one of the more effective players in the SEC a season ago. While most likely Zeb Jasper will come off the bench, he provides the team with another secure ball-handler as well, while he could be good as the sixth man for this team. 

While transfers and a superstar recruit seem to be the theme for this Tigers team, the real key to the team will be with their returning pieces. Allen Flanigan was a very good overall player, who is good as a wing defender, solid shooter, and an effective scorer. Should teams play to take away the inside, Flanigan is a player who has the ability to fill it up from all over the court and make them pay for that defensive strategy. Devan Cambridge is a modern-day forward who is a good switchable defender, solid scorer, and someone who could move Jabari Smith down to the five, giving this team the ultimate offensive weapon. Add to that mix Jaylin Williams, a 6’8 forward that can space the floor, rebound, and play tough defense and this is a very good eight-man rotation. 

This Auburn team is going to want to get out and run and while Wendell Green is a dynamic point guard, he’s no Jared Harper, so expect the tempo to not be quite as fast as in previous seasons. As for the offensive glass, this team has two of the most talented rebounders in the sport with Walker Kessler and Jabari Smith, getting second, third, and even fourth opportunities are both something that can and will happen but could be something that also overwhelms teams facing them. With a team that plays fast and gets a ton of extra possessions, expect this Auburn team to be the highest-scoring team in the SEC. While on the defensive end there’s certainly going to be given up due to turnovers, this is still a roster with plenty of defensive talent. 

The real question for this Auburn team is going to come down to exactly how good each player is, Jabari Smith has #1 pick upside, Walker Kessler has NBA talent at the center spot, while Wendell Green, KD Johnson, and Allen Flanigan can all score the ball. The question really comes down to how good those pieces are, if everyone lives up to their potential, this team has Final Four capabilities. However, with the overall roster and what these players have proven in the past, I think settling for a second-round exit is much more likely for this Auburn team. 

Projected Rotation 

PG: Wendell Green

SG: KD Johnson

SF: Allen Flanigan 

PF: Jabari Smith

C: Walker Kessler 

B1: Devan Cambridge 

B2: Zeb Jasper

B3: Jaylin Williams

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