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6:00 PM PT7:00 PM MT8:00 PM CT9:00 PM ET2:00 PM GMT10:00 PM 北京时间7:00 PM MST9:00 PM EST, Nov 6, 2018
Auburn Arena, Auburn, Alabama  Attendance: 7,754

No. 11 Auburn opens against South Alabama

Auburn isn't going to sneak up and surprise anyone this year, not after last season when the Tigers jumped out to a 21-2 start and earned a share of the Southeastern Conference championship.

Bruce Pearl enters his fifth season with No.11 Auburn coming off one of his most satisfying seasons leading the Tigers to a 26-8 overall record and 13-5 conference mark.

The Tigers return most of their depth as they prepare for Tuesday's opener against South Alabama at Auburn Arena. Six players with extensive experience are back and two others -- Samir Doughty and Danjel Purifoy -- will regain their eligibility and join a team that relishes an up-tempo style.

That's the good news. The bad news is that Pearl will be relying on that depth early on.

Purifoy remains suspended for the first nine games because of eligibility issues related to an NCAA investigation involving former Auburn assistant Chuck Person.

Doughty suffered a high ankle sprain in practice last week and was expected to be out until at least mid-November. On Monday, though, Pearl said there was a chance the transfer from VCU could play.

Starting center Austin Wiley is definitely out with a foot injury that will sideline him for at least two weeks.

There's still plenty in Pearl's cupboard.

"It's made some of the early practice sessions challenging," Pearl told the Montgomery Advertiser. "It's disrupted our fall, preseason camp. We had talked about trying to be good early. It's been harder to get good early when we have to play against the scout team so often because I don't have anyone else to play against."

South Alabama enters the 2017-18 season with a change at the top of its program. The Jaguars open the Richie Riley era after going 14-18 last season.

The 35-year-old Riley spent the past two seasons at Nicholls State and replaces Matthew Graves.

"I'm excited to get started," Riley said. "We got a lot out of our two exhibition games and learned a lot about our team. I'm excited to go play somebody else, even though it's the No. 11 team in the country at their place opening night. It'll be a tall task but I'm excited to see how our guys respond. We're going into the game ready to compete."

Riley brings his up-tempo style from Nicholls, where last season his team was ranked 13th in the nation in shortest average length of offensive possession at 15.4 seconds. He'll rely on last season's leading scorer, Rodrick Sikes (18.7 points per game) to lead the offense.

Sikes connected on 88 3-pointers and reached the 30-point mark five times.

Josh Ajayi, who averaged nearly 13 points and more than six rebounds per game also returns. Ajayi has made great strides, especially his skill levels, Riley said.

"He's seen value in sharing the ball -- his vision is good -- and since he's skilled enough to bounce it three or four times and he has really good feet in the post, he can get to where he wants to on the court," Riley said. "When you can do that as an offensive player, you can draw some help."

The Jaguars will need to improve on last season's offense, which finished 273rd in scoring (69.6 points per game) and 304th in 3-point field-goal percentage.

There are few questions about Auburn's offense, which averaged 83.4 points per game last season, tops in the SEC. And while the Tigers await to gain full strength, it's likely Pearl will lean on shooting guard Bryce Brown and small forward Malik Dunbar to shoulder the load.

As a junior, Brown was the Tigers' second-leading scorer (15.9 ppg) and an all-conference pick. In just 14 minutes per game last season, Dunbar averaged 7.4 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.

Pearl has one of the best rim protectors in the conference in Anfernee McLemore, who blocked 73 shots in 27 games.

"It's all six or seven that remain who are going to be required to do more," Pearl told the Advertiser "They're all going to have to play heavier minutes. It might not enable me to press as much. It might not enable me to force tempo as much if we're only going to play seven or eight guys."

Updated November 6, 2018

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