Key Departures: Devontae Shuler (Grad); Romello White (Grad); KJ Buffen (–>UAB);
New In Town: Jaemyn Brakefield (<–Duke); Nysier Brooks (<–Miami); Tye Fagan (<–Georgia); Daeshun Ruffin (#51); James White (#208); Eric Van Der Heijden (#217); Grant Slatten (#226)
State of the Program:
After lifting Middle Tennessee to a perennial powerhouse that made 3 NCAA tourneys including 2 monster upsets in the first round Kermit Davis Jr has taken on the challenge of lifting a little brother program in the SEC. He has already turned in 2 above .500 seasons in Conference play and has 1 tourney berth under his belt, and comes into this season looking to take the next step and compete with the upper echelon of SEC teams. They don’t lose a ton from last season’s 10-8 SEC squad, but those that they do lose were 3 of their 4 leading scorers. That will be tough to replace, especially for a program that doesn’t attract the nation’s top recruits. They will rely on development from within and some impact transfers to help fill the gaps left behind by the exiting group. Davis relies on a brand of physical basketball and an emphasis on defense, which appears to have resonated with the group he’s had, as they’ve improved each year on D, leading to a top-25 rank in year 3. The continuation of this improvement will keep them competitive despite the losses. They also welcome back key guys like Jarkell Joiner (SR), Luis Rodriguez (JR), Matthew Murrell (SO), and Robert Allen (SR) who will all be key to continuing the progress made last season.
Leading the incoming cavalry is Duke transfer 6’8” F Jaemyn Brakefield (SO). Brakefield was buried on a talented Duke roster a season ago and looks to come in and expand his role as an athletic stretch 4. His athleticism is his biggest strength, and his lefty jumper shows promise. He has to improve his motor as he can disappear at times but his overall potential is off the charts given his physical gifts and shooting ability. He will battle Allen for the starting 4 spot, but either way will have an important role. 7-footer Nysier Brooks (SR) also comes in looking to impact the front-court and should be a starter right away. He doesn’t have an expansive game outside of the paint, but he’s a solid rebounder and can finish well inside. He will help anchor the defense allowing these Rebel guards to press up with more confidence which will bolster this already great defense. Georgia transfer G Tye Fagan (SR) comes to Auburn looking to earn a role in the backcourt after blossoming at UGA in his JR season. He is not much of a shooter but is a quick athlete that get make plays in transition and when attacking the basket. He will compete for bench minutes behind a strong starting backcourt. 5’9” freshman PG Daeshun Ruffin (#59) will also be competing for those backup minutes and has the best chance to serve as the primary backup lead guard behind Joiner. Ruffin obviously undersized but plays with physicality and is a lethal shooter from deep. He gives off strong Isaiah Thomas vibes given his stature and ability to get his shot off with efficiency, and can be a great player down the road for the Rebels. Returners Austin Crowley (JR) and Sammy Hunter (JR) will round out a strong group of 10, leaving the other 3 freshman on the outside looking in, likely resulting in some transfers so we’ll revisit them next season.
That group of 10 for Davis is solid but not elite, and they as a team project to finish in a similar position to a year ago. They will beat up on the bottom half of the Conference but they don’t have the firepower to contend with the upper echelon. Joiner, Murrell and Rodriguez make a solid backcourt but losing Shuler puts a strain on one of these guys to step up and be a go-to guy. It’s hard to predict who that guy could be, and Brakefield and Brooks inside are not serious offensive threats. They should once again be a really good defensive team, but they may struggle even more offensively. I don’t see the incoming group being able to replace the 3 exiting scorers who accounted for 35 ppg. It will be difficult to travel to Mississippi if you’re a top level team, and they may steal some games at home, but they are not a legitimate threat to win the Conference. They will find themselves entrenched in the bubble conversation come February and March and a berth would be a success this season.