Auburn Basketball: 2017-18 Non-Conference Schedule Analysis

In Features by Blake Lovell

The SEC basketball non-conference schedule breakdowns roll on with the Auburn Tigers.

Let’s dive into each non-conference opponent on the schedule.

vs. Norfolk State

Date: November 10

2016-17 Record: 17-17

Season Outlook

The Spartans will be a top-tier team in the MEAC, but their offensive numbers (330th in KenPom’s offensive efficiency rankings) must improve.

Senior guard Zaynah Robinson will be the player to watch after averaged 13.5 points per game last season and hit double figures in 16 of the team’s last 19 games.

vs. Indiana State

Date: November 16 (Charleston Classic in Charleston, SC)

2016-17 Record: 11-20

Season Outlook

After five straight winning seasons from 2010 to 2014, Indiana State has suffered three straight losing seasons.

It may be hard to avoid a fourth straight considering that four-year starter Brenton Scott (15.9 ppg) is the only proven scorer that returns.

vs. Temple/Old Dominion

Date: November 17 (Charleston Classic in Charleston, SC)

2016-17 Record: Temple 16-16, Old Dominion 19-12

Season Outlook

Auburn should come out victorious in the Charleston Classic opener, which means that it’ll get the winner of this game between the Owls and Monarchs.

Temple has a tremendous talent in 6-foot-10 forward Obi Enechionyia (13.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg), who returned to school after declaring for the NBA Draft. The Owls also get back two key guards who sat out last year due to injury: Josh Brown and Trey Lowe.

As for Old Dominion, Zoran Talley left for Iowa State, but junior guard Ahmad Caver (13.0 ppg, 8th in CUSA) and senior forward Brandan Stith (7.0 rpg, 2nd in CUSA) are back to lead a team that finished 330th in the country in scoring (64.5ppg).

We talked with Temple head coach Fran Dunphy on the Marching to Madness podcast this summer.

vs. Clemson/Dayton/Hofstra/Ohio

Date: November 19 (Charleston Classic in Charleston, SC)

2016-17 Record: Clemson 17-16, Dayton 24-8, Hofstra 15-17, Ohio 20-11

Season Outlook

Here’s a group of teams filled with unknowns, which makes it difficult to project who Auburn could be facing on the last day of the Charleston Classic.

Brad Brownell enters a make or break year at Clemson, Anthony Grant takes over a Dayton team that lost four of its five top scorers, and Hofstra and Ohio are likely middle of the pack teams in their respective conferences.

As I said earlier this summer, if Bruce Pearl’s team is at full strength, they’re the best team in this field.

vs. Winthrop

Date: November 24

2016-17 Record: 26-7

Season Outlook

It was certainly a strange offseason for the Eagles after Pat Kelsey left for UMass, only to return shortly after for his sixth season in Rock Hill.

The good news for Kelsey is that the versatile Xavier Cooks (16.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg) returns to lead the way, and that’ll be more than enough to keep this team in the hunt for a Big South crown.

The bad news is that replacing do-it-all guard Keon Johnson (22.3 ppg) won’t be an easy task.

at Dayton

Date: November 29

2016-17 Record: 24-8

Season Outlook

Yes, it’s possible that Auburn could play Dayton twice in the non-conference slate.

But again, while Grant should have the Flyers back on track soon enough, there could be some necessary rebuilding this season after losing so many impact players.

vs. George Mason

Date: December 3

2016-17 Record: 20-14

Season Outlook

The Patriots ranked 312th in the country last season in turnover margin (-3.0), which had a lot to do with being ranked 348th out of 351 teams in KenPom’s defensive turnover percentage (14.2 percent).

With only one senior on the roster, George Mason find this to be a challenging trip to Auburn Arena.

vs. Gardner-Webb

Date: December 6

2016-17 Record: 19-14

Season Outlook

Gardner-Webb lost leading scorer LaQuincy Rideau (14.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.2 apg), this offseason after he transferred to South Florida, and as you can see from his stat line, he did it all for this team.

The team’s second-leading scorer, Tyrell Nelson (12.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg), is also gone.

That’ll leave a lot of work to do for 6-2 guard David Efianayi (12.6 ppg) and 6-5 guard Jamaal Robateau (9.5 ppg).

vs. UAB

Date: December 9

2016-17 Record: 17-16

Season Outlook

Even with some possible tests in the Charleston Classic, this is where the meat of the non-conference schedule really begins for the Tigers.

Throw out the record above when it comes this UAB team. What the Blazers put on the floor last year will only be a fraction of what they put on the floor this year.

Not only are William Lee (13.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg), and Chris Cokley (12.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg) set for all-Conference USA type seasons yet again, but point guard Nick Norton is back after tearing his ACL in the first game of the season.

Lee has won Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year honors two straight seasons, and that aspect of his game will definitely come into play against what appears to be a high-scoring Auburn team.

We talked to UAB head coach Rob Ehsan about his team this summer.

vs. Middle Tennessee State

Date: December 16 (Birmingham, AL)

2016-17 Record: 31-5

Season Outlook

Some people will dismiss the Blue Raiders after the exits of Reggie Upshaw (14.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and JaCorey Williams (17.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg), but this will still be an NCAA Tournament-caliber team.

Giddy Potts (15.3 ppg, 38.4 percent 3-pt) is back for what feels like his 10th season in Murfreesboro, and he’s easily the frontrunner for CUSA Player of the Year.

What will decide MTSU’s ceiling will be the development of big man Brandon Walters (4.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and Alabama grad transfer Nick King.

Kermit Davis joined us on the Marching to Madness podcast to talk about the outlook for his team.

at Murray State

Date: December 19

2016-17 Record: 16-17

Season Outlook

The Racers will boast one of the country’s most prolific scorers in senior guard Jonathan Stark (21.9 ppg), who scored 41 and 37 points on consecutive nights in the 2017 OVC Tournament.

But Matt McMahon will have lots of interesting pieces around Stark, including the versatile Terrell Miller (16.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg) who is a lock for All-OVC honors once again.

The most intriguing part of this game will be the atmosphere, as Murray State fans are continually among the most passionate fanbases in the entire country.

vs. UConn

Date: December 23

2016-17 Record: 16-17

Season Outlook

This is another one of those games where you need to ignore last season’s record.

Kevin Ollie’s team will look much different than it did a season, even if it there’s still work to be done to replace several key contributors.

Junior guard Jalen Adams (14.4 ppg, 6.1 apg) will add plenty of production on his own, but how both Alterique Gilbert and Terry Larrier bounce back from injury will tell us a lot more about the outlook for this Huskies’ team.

vs. Cornell

Date: December 30

2016-17 Record: 8-21

Season Outlook

Matt Morgan (18.1 ppg) will be the player to watch on Brian Earl’s team, which lacks the depth needed to be an Ivy League contender.

Another player that should develop even further is 6-8 forward Stone Gettings (12.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg), who hit the 20-point plateau six times during his sophomore season.

Unfortunately, the Big Red might struggle beyond that.

Overall Schedule Analysis

The most important part of Auburn’s non-conference slate will be the four-game stretch against UAB, MTSU, Murray State, and UConn.

All four of those teams are filled with a lot of potential, and it’s just a matter of seeing how things come together early on.

This is a schedule that features different playing styles and several outstanding playmakers, so that should allow Pearl and company to experiment with some things before heading into SEC play.

Of course, things could wind up being more challenging if there’s any additional fallout from the FBI’s recent investigation.

But for now, this is still an Auburn team that can use this type of non-conference schedule to propel itself into the upper tier in the SEC.

Blake Lovell is the founder of Southeast Hoops. He hosts the Marching to Madness podcast, which features interviews with coaches around the country. He also hosts a weekly college basketball show on WNSR 560AM/95.9 FM in Nashville. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Athlon Sports, Rivals, FanRag Sports, and many more.