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PREVIEW: Coach Barbee believes Auburn is deeper, more athletic

Auburn coach Tony Barbee believes his team has enough depth to carry it to a successful season.

Auburn coach Tony Barbee believes his team has enough depth to carry it to a successful season.

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn coach Tony Barbee thinks the Tigers have more depth and athleticism than they’ve had in his previous two seasons despite another offseason of attrition.

He’s hoping that means the Tigers will be better able to maintain a more fast-paced style and pressing defense.

“I think we’re two-deep at every position with quality players,” Barbee said. “These first two years, if one of our top six or seven went down, there was a noticeable dropoff in talent, production, size, all those things, coming off the bench behind them.

“Are we there, a finished product? No, but we are deeper and more talented at each position so if we do go to the bench there won’t be that noticeable of a dropoff in athleticism and length and skill level.”

That could translate into another season of progress. Auburn jumped from 11 wins to 15 in Barbee’s second season and won five Southeastern Conference games, one more than in his debut.

However, Barbee kicked Josh Langford, a five-game starter, and Cedrick McAfee off the team after the season.

Center Willy Kouassi and forward Bernard Morena both transferred following their freshman season.

Barbee replenished the roster with six signees, including 6-foot-5 guards Shaquille Johnson and Jordan Price, who were each regarded as among nation’s top 100 prospects by at least one recruiting service. Price or fellow freshman Brian Greene Jr. could be the starting point guard.

Freshman Jordon Granger and junior college transfers Shareif Adamu and 7-footer Asauhn Dixon-Tatum bring size along with returning center Rob Chubb.

The Tigers must replace No. 2 scorer and top rebounder Kenny Gabriel, a versatile player who was also second on the team in 3-pointers.

Leading scorer Frankie Sullivan is back at shooting guard. Barbee said Sullivan was only about “85 percent” healthy last season after knee surgery but is fully recovered now.

Sullivan said he didn’t dunk in a game until the home finale against LSU, and has dropped about 15 pounds in the offseason.

“The explosive Frankie is back,” Barbee said. “He’s been making shots, he’s been making plays and that’s what we need from him this year.”

Guard Chris Denson is back after averaging 8.7 points in 22 minutes a game.

The Tigers are still seeking a point guard to replace Varez Ward, who left the team while under investigation for alleged point shaving.

The freshmen Price and Greene join 5-foot-10 senior Josh Wallace, who was placed on scholarship before this season. Wallace is quick and a strong defender but Barbee said Greene is explosive and athletic and Price is “offensively as talented as anybody we’ve got on the team.”

“I think we’ve got a three-headed monster,” Barbee said. “It’s probably the deepest we’ve been at the point in terms of quality production and play, and all three of them bring something different to the table.”

The Tigers still need to develop some scorers alongside Sullivan

They were 10th in the SEC with a 62.6-point average last season and 11th in 3-point percentage (30.2).

Making the postseason still seems like a longshot for a team that hasn’t been to an NCAA tournament since 2003 or the NIT since 2009. Chubb is optimistic about the Tigers’ potential.

“We definitely have a postseason-caliber team,” said Chubb, who averaged 8.1 points and 5.1 rebounds. “The players are a lot bigger, better, faster, stronger than we’ve ever had. Some of these freshmen coming in physically have the bodies of some of the seniors that were leaving last year.”

The Tigers open the season Nov. 15 against Murray State.