|No. 9 Auburn ready for Xavier at Maui Invitational|
Auburn has had it pretty easy early this season. Sure, the No. 9 Tigers have already passed one important challenge, crushing then-ranked No. 25 Washington.
But now, the 3-0 Tigers are hitting the road for a test that should be a good indication how much they've learned in the early part of this season.
The Tigers travel to Hawaii to take part in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. Auburn is one of eight teams that will be showcased and all eight hope to make a statement as the eyes of college basketball focus on Maui.
Bruce Pearl's squad has been studying its first-round opponent, Xavier, for a while. Auburn's last test was against Division II Mississippi College, and as expected it wasn't much of a test and the Tigers earned an A grade with the 103-52 win.
What the game did do was give Auburn a chance to prepare for the Musketeers. The Tigers didn't even start scheming for Mississippi College until the day before the game.
And the Auburn staff has already scouted the Tigers' potential second-round opponent, either San Diego State or Duke.
Austin Wiley scored 18 points and hauled in seven rebounds while playing just 16 minutes. Wiley was 5 of 7 from the floor and 8-for-10 from the free-throw line.
"Obviously, they were outmanned, but it gave us an opportunity to get it inside a little bit," Pearl said. "Horace Spencer and Austin Wiley both took advantage inside. We had an arena-record 66 rebounds and that was positive for us."
Xavier looks a lot different than the team that last year was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers lost a lot of talent (Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura) as well as its head coach, Chris Mack.
There remains plenty in the cupboard for first-year head coach Travis Steele. It might just take a while for the team to come together, but they won't be in awe playing a high-ranked team.
Xavier (2-1) is coming off a 77-68 loss to Wisconsin. Three Musketeers scored double figures, led by sophomore Naji Marshall, who scored a career-high 24 points and grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds.
The teams have met nine times previously with Xavier holding a 5-4 advantage. The Musketeers have won five of the last six games.
"I feel like we can make a statement," said Spencer, Auburn's senior center. "I came in as a freshman and Auburn basketball really wasn't nothing. And as the years progressed, the teams changed, the chemistry changed, who we were changed. We changed Auburn basketball for the better."
But now it's off to Hawaii, warm 80-degree weather and gentle tropic breezes -- and three days of intense hoops among some of the nation's elite.
"We are honored to be a part of such a talented tournament field," said Steele, who was on the XU staff for 10 years previously. "It's exciting for our players and fans to participate in such a prestigious event for the first time in program history. The tournament adds to our challenging nonconference schedule that will prepare us for the Big East season."
Auburn should be a good measuring stick for just how well Steele adapts to sitting in the hot seat. The key to Xavier's success just might be point guard Quentin Goodin, who must improve his shot selection if the Musketeers are going to have a chance.
In the loss against Wisconsin, Goodin scored 13 points on a whopping 18 shots. He'll need to get off to a good start to bolster Xavier's chances.
Steele is confident "Q" is the right man to run the show.
"The first two years I was here I didn't have to, scoring wasn't really a role for me, we had J.P. (Macura) and Tre (Trevon Bluiett) and they did all the scoring," Goodin told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
"Now it's just like I got a new role, a new challenge and I like challenges. I step up to them and I'm anxious to see how I do with this."
Auburn doesn't have many problems on offense. They come into the game averaging 97.3 points per game. Auburn can defend as well, giving up just 58.7 points per game after three games this season.
The winner on Monday will play the winner of Duke/San Diego State.
"What more could you ask, as far as being included in a field like that," Pearl told AL.com. "Just from the standpoint of where we're at, we'll see more about where we're at. We'll get challenged, incredibly."