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VIDEO: Okoro’s layup lifts No. 22 Auburn past South Alabama, 70-69

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MOBILE, Ala. — Freshman Isaac Okoro made a layup with 2.9 seconds left to lift No. 22 Auburn to a 70-69 victory over South Alabama on Tuesday night.

Samir Doughty twice rebounded missed 3-pointers for the Tigers (3-0), setting up the game-winning shot. Okoro hit the shot while falling down in the lane and drew a foul. He missed the free throw, but it didn’t matter.

Andre Fox hit back-to-back 3-pointers in between an Okoro basket to give South Alabama a 69-68 lead with 28 seconds left. That capped a 22-8 South Alabama run.

Okoro had 15 points, six rebounds and six assists for Auburn. Jamal Johnson scored 14 and made 4 of 5 3-pointers. Anfernee McLemore also had 14 points while Doughty had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Fox led the Jaguars (2-1) with 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting. He also had 10 rebounds. Josh Ajayi scored 15.

The game was played in front of the largest crowd in Mitchell Center history, 10,068.

BIG PICTURE

Auburn: Okoro, The Tigers made 10 of 24 3-pointers but were just 12 of 22 from the free throw line. Still searching for a consistent lineup to replace stars Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and China Okeke off last year’s Final Four team.

South Alabama: Trailed by 10 points with four minutes left. Fox scored 11 of the Jaguars’ final 13 points. Lost by 40 to Auburn last season.

UP NEXT

Auburn hosts Cal State, Northridge Friday night.

South Alabama visits Chattanooga Friday night.

Monday Overreactions: The Pac-12’s start, Texas is a contender, Florida’s overrated

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Tyrese Maxey, Kentucky

Maxey was the best player at the Champions Classic last week, scoring 26 points in the final 30 minutes as the Wildcats picked off then-No. 1 Michigan State.

I wrote about it from Madison Square Garden. Kentucky was looking for a star heading into this season. We didn’t know who their best player was going to be this year, and to be frank, we don’t know for sure if it actually is Maxey or if he just got hot at the right time in the right building.

But if Maxey can end up being something close to the guy that we all saw in the World’s Most Famous Arena on Tuesday night, it is unquestionably a difference-maker for the Wildcats. The knock on this group was that there was no clear answer about who is the go-to guy, who is going to be asked to have the ball in their hands, who is going to be capable of making plays at the end of a clock.

Well, now it seems that we have an answer.

It’s Tyrese Maxey.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Texas Longhorns

Texas went into Mackey Arena on Saturday evening and knocked off No. 23 Purdue, 70-66. There are a number reasons why this performance was impressive, from the emergence of Jericho Sims and Gerald Liddell to how well Matt Coleman played to the toughness shown by Andrew Jones in grabbing the game-sealing rebound and knocking down four straight free throws in the final minute.

But to me, what was so impressive about this win was that Texas actually looked like a competent offensive team. We knew this group was going to be able to guard. They’ve always been able to guard under Shaka Smart, and this season they added defensive mastermind Luke Yaklich to the coaching staff. No, the reason to be bullish on Texas – the reason I think that they are the second-best team in the Big 12 – is because they sliced and diced a good Purdue defense.

There are shooters on this roster. There are multiple playmakers on the floor at any given time. They may not have the lottery pick, but Jericho Sims can do a lot of the same things.

Watch out for the Longhorns.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

THE PAC-12 IS ACTUALLY GOOD

Last season, the Pac-12 was an utter disgrace. The league put three teams in the NCAA tournament because Oregon found a way to win the automatic bid. They got their brains beat in during non-conference play, and there wasn’t a single team from the conference that finished higher than a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.

This year is an entirely different story.

Five days into the college basketball season, the Pac-12 is 18-1 overall, and there are some pretty good wins in the mix. Arizona smacked around Illinois. Washington beat Baylor on a neutral court. Oregon has a couple of impressive wins over Mountain West teams. Oregon State beat Iowa State. Utah beat Nevada. Hell, the only loss any team in the Pac-12 suffered came when Arizona State lost to Colorado, another Pac-12 team, in China in a non-league game.

At this point last season, the Pac-12 only had three losses to their name. But they had not won a single game against a high-major opponent had seen Washington get blown out by Auburn, Cal get blown out by Yale and USC to lose to a Vanderbilt team that went winless in the SEC.

ARIZONA IS THE BEST TEAM IN THE PAC-12

I came into the season thinking that Oregon would probably be the best team in the conference. After watching them comeback against Baylor on Friday, I thought that Washington would be the best team in the league.

But at this point, I think I’ve come around to the idea that it’s Arizona. Nico Mannion looks like he is going to be the real deal. He put 23 points and eight assists on Ayo Dosunmu and Illinois, who forced Cassius Winston into a nine-turnover game last season. Josh Green is making shots from the perimeter. Zeke Nnaji has been one of the biggest surprises of the early season.

I’m buying this Arizona team early. Get on board while you can.

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JADEN MCDANIELS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER IN THE LEAGUE

To be clear, I don’t think he’s the best player in the league. I don’t think he’s the most valuable player in the league. Hell, I don’t think that he is either of those things for his own team.

But McDaniels is the guy that is going to determine who wins the Pac-12 this season. He’s just such a weapon in this zone because of his length. Mike Hopkins has been using him at the top (in the two) of his 2-3 zone, and that created a lot of problems for Baylor shooters getting used to his 6-foot-10 frame. And then there are the things that he can do offensively, where he has so much more skill and polish than I initially thought he would.

Put another way, McDaniels was just fantastic during the comeback against Baylor. If the plays like that as opposed to playing like a 195 pound wing that hasn’t quite grown into his height, the Huskies are going to be a nightmare.

FLORIDA IS OVERRATED

I was very surprised by just how slow and small Florida looked when they took on Florida State in Gainesville on Sunday afternoon. Granted, this was a tough matchup for the Gators. The Seminoles overplay passing lanes and switch everything, and that basically dares opponents to try and beat them 1-on-1. That’s tough to deal with for anyone.

But it’s particularly problematic for a Florida team that lacks playmaking and features a point guard that is, relatively speaking, slow and unathletic. Nembhard couldn’t create off the bounce, and when he couldn’t create, Florida’s offense slowed to a crawl.

There aren’t many teams out there that can guard the way Florida State can, and the Gators were certainly not aided by the fact that their good three-point shooters spent Sunday firing up brick after brick, but I’m much more concerned about Florida’s future now than I was before Sunday.

AUBURN’S WIN SAID MORE ABOUT DAVIDSON THAN IT DID ABOUT AUBURN

I really thought Davidson was going to have a chance to win the Atlantic 10 and make a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. I’m not sure I believe that anymore, not after they were completely taken out of anything they want to run by Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers. Davidson just could not deal with that level of athleticism. They missed roughly 800 layups  on Friday, they committed head-scratching, self-inflicted turnovers and they couldn’t keep out of foul trouble thanks to a lack of size inside.

And yet, they were a bucket away from having a chance to win this game on the road.

That’s not a good sign for Auburn.

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Kentucky’s No. 1 as the top reshuffles

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There was definitely some shuffling at the top of the rankings this week.

Kentucky jumped up to No. 1 after they, as the No. 2 team in the country, knocked off then-No. 1 Michigan State. The Spartans fell to No. 4, behind No. 2 Louisville – who looked awesome in two wins, including a road win against Miami – and No. 3 Duke – who knocked off No. 5 Kansas.

To be perfectly frank, I don’t really see all that much difference between the teams in the top five, and if you were going to tell me that any one of them actually was the best team in college basketball, I might believe it.

Hell, I think that Villanova and Gonzaga probably belong somewhere in that conversation, too. Maybe even a team like Arizona or Washington as well.

It’s early in the year so these things are going to constantly change, but this is where I currently stand.

1. KENTUCKY (2-0, Last week: 2)
2. LOUISVILLE (2-0, 4)
3. DUKE (2-0, 6)
4. MICHIGAN STATE (1-1, 1)
5. KANSAS (1-1, 3)
6. VILLANOVA (1-0, 5)
7. GONZAGA (2-0, 8)
8. MARYLAND (2-0, 9)
9. VIRGINIA (2-0, 10)
10. TEXAS TECH (2-0, 11)
11. OREGON (2-0, 12)
12. SETON HALL (2-0, 13)
13. NORTH CAROLINA (2-0, 14)
14. ARIZONA (2-0, 16)
15. UTAH STATE (2-0, 15)
16. SAINT MARY’S (1-0, 17)
17. XAVIER (2-0, 18)
18. LSU (1-0, 19)
19. FLORIDA (1-1, 7)
20. MEMPHIS (2-0, 21)
21. WASHINGTON (1-0, NR)
22. AUBURN (2-0, 22)
23. TENNESSEE (1-0, 23)
24. OHIO STATE (2-0, 25)
25. TEXAS (2-0, NR)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 21 Washington, No. 25 Texs
DROPPED OUT: No. 20 Baylor, No. 24 VCU

No. 24 Auburn beats Davidson 76-66 in Veterans Classic

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Isaac Okoro scored 17 points, Danjel Purifoy had 14 and No. 24 Auburn eased past cold-shooting Davidson 76-66 Friday night in the opener of the Veterans Classic.

Returning two starters from a team that reached the Final Four last season, Auburn (2-0) never trailed against the Wildcats (0-1). After letting a 13-point lead dwindle to 37-35 at halftime, the Tigers took control with a 12-1 run at the outset of the second half.

Purifoy contributed six points to the surge and guard Samir Doughty chipped in with two layups. Doughty finished with 11 points after scoring a team-high 20 in the opener against Georgia Southern.

East Carolina faced Navy in the nightcap of the annual one-night tournament at the Naval Academy.

Doughty and Anfernee McLemore are the two starters back from an Auburn squad that won the Southeastern Conference and beat Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament.

In this one, McLemore came off the bench to score 12 points.

Despite having all five starters back from a team that went 24-10 last season, Davidson got off to a shaky start in its 31st season under coach Bob McKillop.

The Wildcats went 18 for 55 from the field (32.7%) and got the majority of their points from Luke Frampton (18), Carter Collins (18) and redshirt freshman Mike Jones (14).

Jon Axel Gudmundsson, the reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, was held to seven points. Kellan Grady, who averaged 17.3 points last season, scored only six points on 2-for-10 shooting, and Luka Brajkovic was held scoreless after averaging 11.1 ppg in 2018-19.

Davidson went 7 for 26 from the floor in the first half but made 16 of 17 free throws.

The Wildcats started 1 for 7 with four turnovers and fell behind 9-2. It was 23-10 before Jones hit a pair of 3-pointers in a 9-3 spurt that cut the margin to seven.

BIG PICTURE

Davidson: The Wildcats looked like a team playing its first game of the season. Given the lackluster play of the team’s most notable players, McKillop can only hope this was simply an aberration.

Auburn: The Tigers got off to an outstanding start in each half but looked sloppy at times. Still, this victory should impress pollsters who know Davidson finished second in the Atlantic 10.

UP NEXT

Davidson faces Charlotte on the road Tuesday night.

Auburn takes on South Alabama, which has already declared Tuesday night’s game a sellout. The Tigers beat the Jaguars 101-58 last year.

Best Bets: Previewing Auburn-Davidson, Baylor-Washington, Texas-Purdue

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As of this publication, the lines for the Friday games were the only ones posted. Games on Saturday and Sunday will be discussed using projections from KenPom.

No. 24 AUBURN vs. DAVIDSON, Fri. 6:00 p.m. (CBSSN)

  • SPREAD: Auburn (-2.5)
  • TOTAL: 144.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Auburn 73.5, Davidson 71
  • KENPOM: Auburn 75, Davidson 72

This has all of the makings of a bet that I love to make in November. Davidson is one of the most well-coached and experienced teams in college basketball, bringing back their top six from last season. That includes Kellan Grady, who is now healthy, and Jon Axel-Gudmundsson. Grady was the Preseason Atlantic 10 Player of the Year last year as a sophomore. Jon-Axel Gudmundsson won the award. This is a top 25 basketball team.

And they’re taking on an Auburn team that lost their three best players on a neutral floor. I’m not sold on J’Von McCormick being the answer to their problems, and I’m not sure that Samir Doughty is going to be able to replace what they lost in Jared Harper or Bryce Brown. I do like Isaac Okoro and I think he’ll give the Wildcats some issues with his athleticism and versatility, but to me this is a pick-em. If you’re telling me I can get points – or a ML that is around +110 – on Davidson, I’m in.

PICK: Davidson (+2.5)

WASHINGTON vs. No. 16 BAYLOR, Fri. 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)

  • SPREAD: Baylor (-5)
  • TOTAL: 137.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Baylor 71.25, Washington 66.25
  • KENPOM: Baylor 71, Washington 66

Washington lost their top four scorers from a season ago and will replace them with a point guard that transferred in from Kentucky (Quade Green) as well as a pair of five-star freshmen. Isaiah Stewart is a monster, but I’m not sold on Jaden McDaniels stepping in and dominating as a freshman. Those two will be going up against a Baylor team with one of the biggest and toughest frontlines in America.

(You’re going to notice trend here.)

But I’m going to be on Baylor. They bring almost everyone back from last year’s 20-win team that went 10-8 in the Big 12, but in their season-opener on Tuesday afternoon, they started three guys – Tristan Clark, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell – that did not play during Big 12 play last season. Clark was injured and the other two sat out due to transfer rules.

Oh, and should I mention that the Bears were second in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage last season while Washington plays a zone? With two freshmen on their frontline?

PICK: Baylor (-5)

ARIZONA STATE vs. COLORADO, Fri. 10:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

  • SPREAD: Colorado (-5.5)
  • TOTAL: 146.5
  • IMPLIED SCORE: Colorado 76, Arizona State 70.5
  • KENPOM: Colorado 78, Arizona State 72

I really do not have any feel for this game, but considering that it is being played in China and that it is the first game of the season for both teams, I think I lean towards the under here. But that’s it. I’m mostly just interested in figuring out what to make of both of these teams. Colorado brings everyone back from a 23-win team, while Arizona State has a roster with some talent that has done nothing but underperform against Pac-12 competition the last two years.

PICK: Under 146.5

TEXAS at No. 23 PURDUE, Sat. 7:00 p.m. (FS1)

  • KENPOM: Purdue 72, Texas 63

I don’t think that this line is going to open up at Purdue (-9), but if it does, then Texas seems like the easy play. We know they are going to be one of the nation’s best defensive teams, and getting nine points is a lot of points in a game that I think will be played in the high-50s or low-60s. Throw in the fact that Purdue lost their top two scorers from last season and this feels like the line should be closer to 4.5.

PICK: Texas (+9)

FLORIDA STATE at No. 6 FLORIDA, Sun. 1:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM: Florida 69, Florida State 65

The Seminoles are coming off of a loss at Pitt in their season-opener and will take on a Florida team that most people expect to be an SEC title contender that has a chance of winning a national title. I liked Florida State on the road (-4.5) against Pitt, but I do not like the Seminoles on the road in a rivalry game.

PICK: Florida (-4)

ILLINOIS at No. 21 ARIZONA, Sun. 9:00 p.m. (PAC-12)

  • KENPOM: Arizona 76, Illinois 70

This is going to be a nightmare road trip for the Illini, who are playing at Grand Canyon on Friday night and have to follow that up with a visit to Tucson on Sunday night. The Wildcats looked good their first time out, getting 20 points from Zeke Nnaji in a blowout win over Northern Arizona. Illinois got taken to overtime by Nicholls State at home.

PICK: Arizona (-6)

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

BINGHAMTON at No. 1 MICHIGAN STATE (-35); 141, Sun. 7:00 p.m.

Michigan State will be looking to bounce back after a loss in the Champions Classic. I don’t think that foul trouble will be much of an issue in this one.

EASTERN KENTUCKY at No. 2 KENTUCKY (-29.5); 149.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Let’s see what Part II of the Tyrese Maxey Show has to offer.

UNC GREENSBORO at No. 3 KANSAS (-16); 144.5, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

It sounds like there’s a chance that Isaiah Moss plays in this one, and I fully expect the Jayhawks to bounce back from an ugly loss in a big way. I know UNCG is good, but Kansas I think Kansas is the best bet for a heavy favorite this weekend.

COLORADO STATE at No. 4 DUKE (-24); 146, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Niko Medved is a good coach, Duke is built on their defense and the Baby Blue Devils will be playing their first game in Cameron. Let’s see if Coach K can work through some of these offensive issues against someone that isn’t a title contender.

YOUNGSTOWN STATE at No. 5 LOUISVILLE (-26); 150, Sun. 2:00 p.m.

Jordan Nwora was terrific in the opener. Now that the Cards aren’t playing ACC teams, let’s see if they can find a way to get their point guard play up to snuff.

RHODE ISLAND at No. 7 MARYLAND (-12); 146, Sat. 9:00 p.m.

Rhode Island is probably a top five team in the Atlantic 10 this season, and that actually carries some weight this year. The Terps struggled early with Holy Cross. I think the Rams make this a game.

ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF at No. 8 GONZAGA (-32); 140, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

Gonzaga is banged up and thin in their backcourt. They should still roll.

No. 9 NORTH CAROLINA (-22.5) at UNC WILMINGTON; 161.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Cole Anthony will take centerstage once again, this time playing his first true road game as a collegian. Credit to Roy Williams, who is not afraid to play in-state mid-major competition in their building.

JAMES MADISON at No. 11 VIRGINIA (-24); 126, Sun. 6:00 p.m.

Virginia just gave up 34 points to Syracuse. KenPom has JMU’s team total at 51. I think if I’m going to bet this game, I’ll bet that under.

STONY BROOK at No. 12 SETON HALL (-21); 143, Sat. 2:30 p.m.

The Myles Powell Show heads into game No. 2. Seton Hall rolled in the opener despite not having Kevin Willard on the sideline.

BETHUNE-COOKMAN at No. 13 TEXAS TECH (-28); 146, Sat. 8:00 p.m.

Texas Tech looked better than I expected in the opener for a team that is as young as they are. I’ll be very curious to see what Jahmi’us Ramsey’s progression looks like this season.

UIC at No. 14 MEMPHIS (-20); 156.5, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

James Wiseman will be back in action after popping off for 28 points in his debut.

BOISE STATE at No. 15 OREGON (-11); 139, Sat. 11:00 p.m.

Payton Pritchard popped off for a monster game in Oregon’s opener against Fresno State. They continue their tour of the Mountain West with a date against Boise State.

UMASS-LOWELL at No. 18 OHIO STATE (-24); 144, Sun. 4:00 p.m.

The Buckeyes went eight minutes without scoring to open up their season at home against Cincinnati. I don’t think they’ll have that issue against UMass-Lowell.

SIENA at No. 19 XAVIER (-20); 143, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

I really like Siena in this game. I have a lot of respect for Carmen Maciariello and his ability to coach, and the truth is that Siena might have the best player on the floor in Jalen Pickett. They’re not getting 20-pieced.

BOWLING GREEN at No. 22 LSU (-13); 156, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

I’m high on this LSU team, and I think that they are undervalued heading into this season. I’ll lay the 13 points.

NORTH TEXAS at No. 25 VCU (-16.5); 134, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

North Texas is bringing back four starters. VCU still can’t shoot and wins with their defense. I think Grant McCasland and the Mean Green can hang in there and keep this respectable.

Doughty, No. 24 Auburn top Georgia Southern 83-74 in opener

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AUBURN, Ala. — The Auburn Tigers debuted their new look, minus the stars that led them to the program’s first Final Four and also without the barrage of 3-pointers.

Samir Doughty scored 20 points to lead No. 24 Auburn to an 83-74 victory over Georgia Southern on Tuesday night in the opener for both teams.

The formula was different: Auburn made just seven 3-pointers. That’s 11 fewer than their debut last season against South Alabama when the Tigers were on their way to setting the Southeastern Conference single-season mark.

There’s no Bryce Brown, Jared Harper or Chuma Okeke firing away.

“It wasn’t pretty but we got the win,” said Austin Wiley, who had 13 points and nine rebounds for Auburn. “We’ve got to do better at not turning the ball over and just rebounding the ball better.”

The Tigers could never quite pull away from the Sun Belt Conference’s Eagles. But Doughty made five of six free throws over the final 1:09 to avoid a late scare.

“They’re a great ball club so we didn’t expect to come in here and blow these guys out,” Doughty said. “We know they’re an older team, so we knew it was going to be a dog fight. We talked about that this whole week.”

Auburn took a 61-48 lead eight minutes into the second half with Danjel Purifoy’s 3-pointer punctuating a quick eight-point flurry.

Purifoy scored 13 points while making three 3s. Freshman Isaac Okoro scored 12 points in his debut. New point guard J’von McCormick had nine points and four assists.

Ike Smith, who took a medical redshirt last season after missing 23 games, scored 16 points for Georgia Southern. He was a first-team All-Sun Belt performer two years ago.

Isaiah Crawley also scored 16 while Elijah McCadden finished with 12 points.

Auburn had to replace those three stars from a team that fell to eventual champion Virginia in the Final Four. This one started four seniors and Okoro, the team’s top new recruit.

“This team’s going to get better, fast,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “Hopefully fast. Georgia Southern’s going to have a good year.”

Auburn took a 41-37 lead into halftime after freshman Devan Cambridge made back-to-back 3-pointers over the final 1:23.

“Bruce Pearl has built this program into a juggernaut,” Georgia Southern coach Mark Byington said. “We knew we were coming into a tough environment. They have a very talented team.

“Our guys were excited to play and see where they were against a Top-25 team.”

BIG PICTURE

Georgia Southern: The Eagles are trying for another strong season after back-to-back 21-12 records but are replacing Sun Belt player of the year Tookie Brown. They were outrebounded 41-27.

Auburn: The Tigers were ranked in the preseason for just the sixth time and second straight season. They committed 21 turnovers, including a wave of them early. Auburn improved to 8-0 against Georgia Southern.

OKORO’S DEBUT

The four-star recruit was 6-of-9 shooting with five rebounds, and made one late shot while falling to the floor.

“We’re going to use him a lot more than y’all think,” Doughty said.

CARTER SUSPENDED

Georgia Southern announced before the game that senior forward Simeon Carter has been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. Carter averaged 8.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season, mostly off the bench.

MOMENT OF SILENCE

Auburn held a moment of silence before the game to honor longtime broadcaster Rod Bramblett and his wife, Paula, who were killed in a car accident on May 25.

UP NEXT

Georgia Southern makes its home debut Friday night against Reinhardt.

Auburn faces Davidson at the Veterans Classic in Annapolis, Maryland, on Friday.