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Auburn's Bruce Pearl relying again on overhauled roster, but with deeper, bigger team


AUBURN, Alabama — Bruce Pearl is practically starting over again at Auburn, only he thinks this time with a better overall roster.

The Tigers will once again rely heavily on transfers and freshmen after Pearl's first team finished with a surprising run to the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

"That roster was patch-worked and put together," Pearl said. "It just did not quit. They laid a foundation for us. This year's team, we're a little more talented, we're a little bigger, we're a little more athletic, we're deeper, and therefore a little better.

"This team can build on what last year's team started."

Gone are Antoine Mason and the league's leading scorer and 3-point shooter, KT Harrell.

But Pearl brought in a recruiting class ranked among the nation's Top 20, including top junior college recruit T.J. Dunans. He also bolstered a frontcourt led by Cinmeon Bowers by adding graduate transfer forward Tyler Harris, who has been part of three NCAA Tournament teams with Providence and North Carolina State.

Marshall transfer Kareem Canty joins Tahj Shamsid-Deen — and Dunans — in the backcourt after sitting out last season under NCAA rules. Shamsid-Deen is out for at least a month after separating his right shoulder in Tuesday's practice.

The Tigers haven't made it to the postseason since going to the NIT in 2009. They were picked to finish 10th in the SEC but Pearl and Harris think the team can be good enough to get a postseason bid.

"It's not a maybe. This team has a lot of talent," the 6-foot-10 Harris said. "There's great talent on this team. We could definitely make a run. It's just a matter of what we're willing to do on the court."

Pearl said Harris is a strong all around frontcourt player who can shoot, pass, defend and rebound.

"He's just a real stabilizer, a real glue guy for us," Pearl said. "He makes everybody better when he's on the floor."

Auburn's team went through growing pains last season but then won three games at the SEC tournament for the first time in 30 years before losing to No. 1 Kentucky in the semifinals.

Here's some other things to know about the 2015-16 Auburn team:

SLIMMER CINMEON: Bowers has dropped 30 pounds during the offseason and worked on his shooting and free throws. He's the SEC's top returnee in both rebounding and double-doubles but hit just 48 percent of his whopping 207 free throw attempts. "He can get to the foul line a lot and if he can convert more, we're going to be a much better team," Pearl said.

SHAMSID-DEEN: A strong defender, he can play both point guard and shooting guard. Shamsid-Deen missed the final 11 games of last season with injury and had surgery on both shoulders.

BACKCOURT SCORING: The Tigers must replace 46 points a game in the backcourt, not counting Shamsid-Deen. Canty and Dunans both averaged 16-plus points in their last season of action. Canty was a freshman at Marshall while Dunans was at Columbia State Community College.

YOUTH MOVEMENT: Auburn will need contributions from several freshmen, including forward Horace Spencer and guard Bryce Brown. The big question among that group is forward Danjel Purifoy, who could make a big impact but hasn't been cleared to play by the NCAA.

TOUGH SCHEDULE: Auburn could face as many as 10 teams that made the postseason last year, including seven that played in the NCAA Tournament. That includes opening opponent UAB on Nov. 13.

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