By Brant Daughtry
So I won’t be working over Thanksgiving. And as a result, I won’t be able to write about Auburn’s second opponent in the Cancun Challenge whenever we know who that is. With that in mind, I’ll be writing about all of Auburn’s potential opponents, even though one of them won’t be playing Auburn. Expect these sections to look a little shorter than my usual previews because of that. Also, the Iron Bowl preview will come out sometime tomorrow morning. Let’s get into it.
The Bradley Braves are located in Peoria, Illinois, and are coached by Brian Wardle in his eighth season at the head of the program. He took over a program that hadn’t had a winning record in the Missouri Valley Conference in six seasons and turned them into a team that won the conference title two years in a row for the first time in school history in 2019 and 2020.
The Braves are 3-1, having dominated competition on their level, but having a loss to Utah State. They are a well-balanced team, having scored about 79 points a game, but really show off on defense, hoping teams to an average of 66 per game. They are an average three point shooting team, shooting about 35% from deep. Where they struggle is the free throw line, shooting about 67% from the line.
Players to Watch For:
Forward Malevy Leons, #14- Hailing from the Netherlands, Leons is the leader in minutes per game for the Braves, as the only player who averages over 30 minuets per contest. He’s the best big they have, leading the team in rebounds with 6.8. He also scores a decent bit, averaging 11 points a game.
Forward Ja’Shon Henry, #22- Originally from Saskatchewan, Henry is the leading scorer for the Braves, averaging 13 points a game. He’s second in rebounds per game with 6. He and Leons will be the inside scoring presence for Bradley, and Auburns focus should be on limiting them.
The Liberty Flames are coached by Richie McKay, who coached Liberty in the last 2000’s, spent several years as an assistant at Virginia, then returned to Liberty to fill the position again in 2015. He’s led the Flames to consecutive conference titles, and back-to-back NCAA Tournament births.
They Flames are 2-2, having beaten Regent and NC Central, but having a blowout loss to Alabama, and losing a tight one with Southern Miss. They average 78.5 points per game, while giving up 68. Every statistic they have, to me at least, seems very average. They’ll lose to good teams, and beat bad teams.
Players to Watch For:
Guard Darius McGhee, #2- McGhee is only 5′ 9″, but does not let that hold him back. He’s a scoring machine, averaging over 20 points a game. He also has several steals and rebounds well for someone his size. He’s also shooting over 40% from three.
Guard Brody Peebles, #1- If McGhee is Batman, Peebles is his Robin. He’s their second leading scorer, averaging 15 points a game. Those two are the only ones averaging double digit scoring. He’s an absolute deadeye from tree, shooting an insane 61%.
The Northwestern Wildcats are coached by Chris Collins, who is in his 10th season in Chicago. He’s raised the ceiling a good bit, as he coached the team to a school-record 24 wins in 2017, and several NCAA Tournament appearances.
This years’ Northwestern team is 4-0, but, like Auburn, they haven’t been tested super hard yet. A red flag to look for though is their previous game, a scare against Purdue Fort Wayne, which they won by only eight points. Another concern is their depth, or rather their lack pf it. They have three players averaging over 30 minutes a game. They shoot the ball well, averaging over 40% from the field, and about 37% from deep.
Player to Watch For:
Guard Boo Buie, #00- Buie is a good player, and does serval things well. He’s the team leader in scoring, averaging 17.3 points per game. He’s tied for the team lead in assists with 5.5, and is a solid rebounder with 4.5 per. He shoots exceptionally well from three at over 45%.
Forward Robbie Beran, #31- Beran is second in minutes on the team, and is a great inside-out scoring big. He’s hit half his threes on the year, and is scoring 13.3 points per game. he’s tied for the team lead in rebounds with 6.8 per game.
The final for this one seems pretty clear. Auburn is expected to beat Bradley, while Northwestern-Liberty is expected to be a but closer. Overall, Auburn is expected to win the challenge. This is one of the final sets of games Auburn is expected to win going away before tougher competition starts. After this you return home to host Saint Louis, a team that gave Auburn everything it could handle last year. After that, a game against Colgate before you head to Atlanta to take on Memphis. The schedule only gets harder from here. Pretty soon, we’ll know a lot more about this Auburn basketball team.