After Auburn's season opener against IPFW, senior guard Frankie Sullivan said he didn't like getting into scoring battles with the opposition's top player. In the first half, Sullivan dueled with IPFW guard Frank Gaines on his way to 26 points on 11 of 20 shooting. He might have no choice but to do the same in the Tigers' opening game of the Charleston Classic against Murray State tonight at 7 p.m.
The Racers are led by preseason All-American guard Isaiah Canaan who averaged 19 points and 3.6 assists a game last season while directing the Murray State to a school-record 31 wins, including 23 straight to open the year before losing to Marquette in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
"Murray State is a very talented team," Auburn head coach Tony Barbee said. "The guys they have returning with Isaiah Canaan being a preseason first-team All-American and how great he was last year from the point guard position. He has the ability to score and get everyone involved.
"(Ed) Daniel is just a man offensively, and he offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds. He plays so hard and is very athletic. It is a team that has a lot of conﬁdence and plays with a lot of conﬁdence and swagger about them. You can tell that they won 31 games last year, and they play like it. They are a fast-paced team, are really good in transition and are a great offensive rebounding team."
Auburn will play either St. John's or College of Charleston Thursday in the second round of the Charleston Classic, which also features Baylor, Boston College, Colorado and Dayton. Baylor, an Elite Eight team in 2011, is the tournament favorite with seven-foot freshman Isaiah Austin joining speedy point guard Pierre Jackson.
"It is a really tough ﬁeld," said Barbee. "After the ﬁrst game against a very tough Murray State team, you are either going to have the home team in College of Charleston, who has a new coach (Doug Wojcik) who we know very well from his days at Tulsa with us being in the same league (C-USA). You have St. John's from the BIG EAST which is always a good program. Dayton, Colorado, Baylor and Boston College are also in the tournament, so it is a very good ﬁeld."
Murray State won its season opener 88-43 against Brescia, a NAIA team, and Canaan led the Racers with 11 points, three assists and five rebounds. The Racers push the tempo with a three-guard attack, but Auburn will attempt to counter Murray State's star guard with two very different matchups while playing man-to-man defense.
Starting point guard Josh Wallace stands 5'10, giving up three inches to the 6'1, 198 pound Canaan, but will be able to pester Canaan up and down the floor. Freshman guard Brian Greene Jr. is 6'3, 205 pounds and can provide a more physical presence if Wallace gets in early foul trouble as he did against IPFW.
Both teams have experienced starting lineups that feature four seniors and one junior each, but each has overhauled their roster from last season. Auburn's reserves include six newcomers, four of them true freshman. Murray State added six true freshman to their squad while only returning two starters from last year's team.
The Tigers didn't leave the confines of Auburn Arena until December last season when they traveled to New Jersey for the SEC-Big East Challenge. This year, Auburn has a lone regular season game under their belts before taking on a major test on the road in a tournament that has potential to be one of the most exciting pre-season tournaments.
After the final exhibition game and the regular season opener, coach Tony Barbee stressed the inability of his team, the freshman in particular, to match the early intensity of the opposition. The lack of energy led to a three-point deficit against IPFW, something the Tigers won't be able to overcome against the Racers.
Auburn tips off against Murray State at 7 p.m. CST. The game will be available on ESPN3.