AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — The Auburn Tigers didn’t quite make the cut in the preseason AP Top 25.
They’re also picked to finish sixth in the Southeastern Conference, where only one team has won more games over the past six seasons.
There are reasons for the middling projections that are actually one spot higher than where Auburn finished last season, including lack of experience at point guard and a heavy reliance on transfers facing stepped-up competition.
Still, preseason All-SEC forward Johni Broome has a message for anyone sleeping on the Tigers: “They’re going to be woken up real soon.”
Coach Bruce Pearl enters his 10th season having led the Tigers to 143 wins over the last six years, behind only Tennessee in the SEC. Last year’s team went 21-13 and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, blowing a 10-point halftime lead to No. 1 seed Houston.
“Last year was a good season. It wasn’t much more than that,” Pearl said. “A win over Houston, an invitation to the Sweet 16, now you’re talking about a very good year. We bring enough guys back from that team and enough experience back to build on, and we’ve got, probably, as many newcomers this year as I think I’ve ever had..”
The team’s best player returns with Broome back after averaging 14.2 points and 8.4 points while ranking 10th nationally in blocked shots (2.4 per game). Double-digit scorers Wendell Green Jr. and Allen Flanigan are gone, with Flanigan transferring to Mississippi.
Fifth-year player Jaylin Williams returns with Broome in the frontcourt and was also the team's No. 2 3-point shooter last season.
The Tigers still are loaded with experience, just not at the SEC level. The only freshman is five-star point guard Aden Holloway.
Transfers Denver Jones, Chaney Johnson, Chad Baker-Mazara and Addarin Scott give the team eight upperclassmen in its projected 10-man rotation.
The two underclassmen both happen to be point guards, Holloway and sophomore Tre Donaldson, who averaged just over 10 minutes a game last season. The 6-foot-1, 178-pound Holloway was the nation's No. 27 overall recruit, according to 247Sports.
“They’re both very capable,” Pearl said. “Aden’s got some special in him from a standpoint of being a gamer and Tre’s got some toughness and leadership in him, and they’re both going to play.”
Johnson was the Gulf South Conference player of the year at Division II Alabama-Huntsville.
“He is going to be one of the better players in our league this year or next,” Pearl said.
Jones was a first-team All-Conference USA pick at FIU. Baker-Mazara arrives via junior college after stints at Duquesne and San Diego State. Scott is also a JUCO product.
Entering his fifth year with 87 wins, Williams is one away from becoming the program’s winningest player. Pearl’s 173 wins leading the Tigers is tied with Sonny Smith for the third-most wins by an Auburn coach, 13 shy of No. 2 Cliff Ellis.
K.D. Johnson was Auburn's top player off the bench last season. He has some help in what Pearl feels is a deep roster.
“When I go to the bench, I’m not dropping off. I’m different but I’m not dropping off,” the Tigers coach said. “We will have a 10-man rotation.”
Auburn opens the season Nov. 7 against No. 20 Baylor in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. And there was a method to scheduling such a game in the opener.
“With the league being where it’s at, how do I stay relevant?” Pearl said. “How do I keep Auburn basketball relevant in this incredible league? I’ve got to go out and schedule.”
Auburn also plays Indiana in Atlanta and Notre Dame in New York.
Get poll alerts and updates on the AP Top 25 Basketball Polls throughout the season. Sign up here
AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball