Auburn's Bruce Pearl has advice for Kareem Canty
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — The easy thing to do would have been to schedule an easy opponent.
That's not the Bruce Pearl way.
The Auburn basketball coach has scheduled a tough season-opener Friday night in visiting UAB, which returns all its starters from a team that made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament last season. This men's game will tip off at 8:30 p.m. in Auburn Arena, following the women's opener against UAB at 5:30.
"I'm not afraid to lose or play anybody," Pearl said. "It's the right thing to do. We should play UAB. They have a great history and tradition.
"The only reason you don't play them is you're afraid you'll get beat by them, and that's just not a good enough reason."
This is the 18th time Auburn has faced UAB, but the first time since 1999.
Pearl will be entering his second season at Auburn, and eighth as an SEC head coach, and says he's scheduled the second toughest strength of schedules in the country over that time, trailing only Duke.
"If you don't schedule that schedule, you tell your team, 'We're still the worst program in the league.' I don't want to recruit that way, I don't want to schedule that way, I don't want to train that way, and, most of the time last year, we didn't play that way. We'll see if we can, in spite of that challenge, continue to make progress," Pearl said.
UAB returns virtually everybody. Not Auburn, which finished 15-20 last season. KT Harrell, the SEC's leading scorer, is gone, and so is running mate Antoine Mason. So are all the other guards who finished the season. Cinmeon Bowers, the SEC's leading rebounder and a double-double machine, is back. He'll be supported in the front court by Tyler Harris, a transfer from Providence, and Jordon Granger, who started 33 games last season for Auburn.
Counting walk-ons, Auburn's roster has nine guards and five forwards. Yet, Auburn doesn't have much experience at guard, especially since Tahj Shamsid-Deen will miss at least the first two games with a shoulder injury. Freshman Bryce Brown has been suspended by the NCAA for the opener because he played in an extra summer league game. But the Tigers do have promise in the position in Kareem Canty, who sat out last year after transferring in from Marshall. He averaged 16.3 points per game as a freshman there. New Williams, a shooter, is Auburn's other scheduled starter.
"When you lose four senior guards, any time, it has its challenges," Pearl said. "And with only four returning players on scholarship from last year's team, it's almost like it's Year One all over again. But our front line is definitely better. It's bigger, it's deeper, it's more athletic and it's better. That will serve us well."
Alas, "our backcourt is brand new."
T.J. Dunans is a guard who can also score. He was the nation's No. 1 junior college player at Columbia State in Tennessee. TJ Lang and Zach Allison figure to play early as well.
Auburn, which won both its exhibition games, opens the season with three games in the eight days. After Friday, Auburn plays a home game against Colorado at 2 p.m. next Tuesday on ESPN, then will play host to Georgia Southern at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 20.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine