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A rough start hasn’t slowed the excitement at Auburn for the Bruce Pearl era

Bruce Pearl has taken on the Herculean feat of turning around a moribund Auburn program, he has them on the brink but the peak may be another year away. Previewing the #11 team — the Auburn Tigers.

Auburn Preview

#11 Auburn Tigers

Last Season: 11 - 20 (5 - 13 in conference) #189 in kenpom

My prediction: 7 - 11 (11th in conference)

C&M Prediction: none, but probably 17-1 or something

the Masses Prediction: 8.8 - 9.2 (6th in conference)

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Arkansas Gunnar Rathbun-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Bruce Pearl | second season 26 - 40

The Bruce Pearl bandwagon was filled to the brim a couple years ago when Auburn hired the enigmatic former head coach from Tennessee. The expectations were set at an incredibly high level though I’m not sure anyone was aware of just how talent deficient the roster was at the end of the Tony Barbee era. If there’s one thing you have to love about Pearl it’s that he’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get to work. Make no mistake, Pearl has put in the work and cobbled together a roster that is finally starting to look SEC caliber. Perhaps it was the quick turnaround at Tennessee, where he jump-started a talent laden roster into the NCAA tournament and into a perennial top 25 program, but this has been a more gradual build as he loaded up on 5th year seniors and JUCO transfers that have allowed the scholarship flexibility for Pearl to load up in the last two recruiting classes, and even in 2017 where he has a top five class. As long as the brass at Auburn are willing to foot the bill to keep Pearl happy, there are some brighter days coming to Auburn Arena.


Auburn 10 year Preview

Just looking at the last five years Auburn has been very bad (#analysis). Aside from one blip in 2008, it’s been a long, sad decade or so for Auburn basketball fans. After a series of bad hires Auburn got Bruce Pearl to breathe some life into the University on the plains of Alabama. Even if the life was just enough to find a pulse for the last few years. When Pearl was hired Auburn fans bought in and started showing up to games in a big way. Auburn Arena has become a tough place to play, now just imagine how tough it will be when the Tigers are actually pretty good! The University has the money to keep Pearl happy and they should, because the way back is dark, and full of terrors.


name reason GP %min %pts %ov
Cinmeon Bowers Graduated 30 .686 .122 .144
Tyler Harris Graduated 30 .685 .191 .145
Kareem Canty Professional 21 .577 .175 .289
Jordon Granger Graduated 31 .535 .067 .061
Tahj Shamsid-Deen Retired 5 .047 .006 .016
Jonathan Walker Graduation 10 .016 .002 .015
31 .499 .579 .623

Far be it from me to rag on a specific player, but I’ll be happy to never have to watch Cinmeon Bowers play basketball again. He drove me absolutely crazy by taking terrible shots and turning the ball over. As a big bodied and mobile forward he was a double-double machine until Auburn’s roster became so depleted he had to play the role of point guard. While entertaining, putting one of your least efficient offensive players in the role of primary ball handler certain had its drawbacks. The other end of the spectrum was the efficiency of 5th year transfer Tyler Harris. Probably one of the most underrated players in the conference as he played on a team who rarely had the same top 8 from game to game, and he just put up solid numbers. Had Harris had better surrounding talent around him, he likely scores less but his efficiency goes up as well.

Jordan Granger actually had a solid, if unspectacular, career at Auburn. He was never going to be great player but he turned into a solid role guy who got a little exposed in being forced to play more minutes than he was prepared for. And the strange and sad saga of Tahj Shamsid-Deen came to an end when he decided to quit basketball. I’m calling it “retiring” above because his shoulder issues had gotten so bad it wasn’t possible for him to continue playing. It’s a shame because I enjoyed watching him play, an undersized guard with a huge heart whose body just couldn’t keep up. Hey everyone, remember when Kareem Canty was making an early run at SEC player of the year only to leave the team and declare for the NBA draft only to go undrafted? Yeah, me neither.


name yr pos GP %min %pts %ov
T.J. Lang junior G 31 .620 .099 .080
Bryce Brown sophomore G 30 .596 .137 .096
Horace Spencer sophomore F 31 .451 .073 .043
T.J. Dunans senior G 16 .377 .084 .119
Devin Waddell senior F 26 .137 .002 .001
New Williams sophomore G 21 .107 .008 .009
Zach Allison sophomore G 10 .021 .000 .004
Cole Blackstock sophomore F 5 .007 .002 .001
Trey Tate sophomore F 1 .003 .000 .000
Danjel Purifoy R-Freshman G DNP - Academics

31 .501 .421 .377
NCAA Basketball: Northwestern State at Auburn
T.J. Dunans will be tough to defend if he can stay healthy
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Dunans | SENIOR | WING

One of the reasons for Auburns struggles a year ago was the health of certain key players, including T.J. Dunans who only played in 16 games. His six games of conference play were a little rocky, but considering he was coming back from an injury he played pretty well, and ended up averaging almost 12 points a game. Dunans, heading into his senior campaign, has to be ready for a break out performance. He’s already shown he can be a scorer by being one of the top guys prior to his injury, and it’s hard not to see Auburn going to Dunans as a leader, with so many young and talented players behind him.

Of the other returners you’ll want to keep an eye on is Horace Spencer, who is an athletic freak of nature and showed the ability to wreak havoc on the defensive side of the ball last season as a freshman. He’s got “BRUCE_PEARL_SYSTEM” written all over him and could be a major difference maker this season. I’m a big fan of the little things T.J. Lang does as a player, he’s rarely flashy but is so effective in being the glue guy that he finds his way to the floor over more highly regarded athletes. There’s a group of good young guards who can help out this year in New Williams and Bryce Brown, both guys are athletic and exciting young players who figure to have big roles this season.


class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Mustapha Heron 6'5 200 26 CG
Fr Jared Harper 5'11 155 109 PG
Fr Anfernee McLemore 6'9 210 248 POST
So Desean Murray 6'2 176 TRANSFER - Presbyterian CF
Sr Ronnie Johnson 6'0 180 Grad TRANSFER - Houston PG
Sr LaRon Smith 6'8 215 Grad TRANSFER -- Bethune Cookman POST
Adidas Eurocamp 2015 - Day One
Mustapha Heron figures to play a key role in Auburns resurgence
Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images


It was pretty big news when Bruce Pearl convinced Mustapha Heron to commit to Auburn. The 5-star combo guard is a physical presence when driving the ball to the basket, and has a soft lefty touch to go with it... it’s pretty easy to see why he’s so highly regarded. He’ll fit right into the rotation immediately and provide an instant impact on offense, which has been an area the Tigers have struggled with in recent years.

Jared Harper is a small feisty playmaker who can shoot the cover off the ball, and the point guard of the future for the Tigers. He’ll see the floor a lot this year but for now he’ll likely back up senior 5th year transfer from Houston, Ronnie Johnson. Johnson has more experience, he’s also bigger and stronger and the kind of player who will stand up to the rigors of this schedule the Tigers are embarking on. Pearl also signed a 6’9 forward from Georgia named Anfernee McLemore who is something of a combo forward with a heavy lean towards the post, but at 210 pounds he’s got some weight to put on before being a reliable contributor. LaRon Smith on the other hand is a top level shot blocker and rebounder who should be able to help right away as another 5th year senior. The last of the newcomers is DeSean Murray, a powerful 6’4 scoring wing who is transferring from Presbyterian. Murray will have to sit out a year but figures to have an important role in the future.


Point Guard Combo Guard Wing
Ronnie Johnson Mustapha Heron T.J. Dunans
Jared Harper Bryce Brown Danjel Purifoy
Combo Forward Post
Horace Spencer LeRon Smith
T.J. Lang Anfernee McLemore

The depth chart is difficult to figure at this point because it would appear there is a lack of depth on the interior, and a surplus on the outside, the Tigers could benefit from playing smaller if they can use the flexibility of players like Dunans and Purifoy to fill into that stretch four kind of role.


My Projected Record: 17 - 14 | KenPom Projected Record: 11 - 19

NCAA Basketball: Houston at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Non-Conference: North Florida, Texas Tech, Purdue/Utah St, UAB, Boston College, Oklahoma, UConn, TCU

Pearl put together a very challenging schedule. Four or five potential losses could derail a return to the postseason. Three Big 12 teams, Purdue and UConn is no joke, even if one of the Big 12 teams is rebuilding TCU now coached by Jamie Dixon. Unlike most SEC schools Auburn is really only looking at seven sure wins in their early schedule, which would make tough task getting to post season play without winning a more than a few of the toss-ups and games they won’t be favored in.

Conference: Alabama (2x), Georgia (2x), LSU (2x), Missouri (2x), Ole Miss (2x), @ Kentucky, @ South Carolina, @ Texas A&M

Doubling up on Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss won’t be easy, and Missouri throttled Auburn last year on the road, so the favorable scheduling didn’t shine on Auburn this year. Traveling to Kentucky and Texas A&M are likely losses and South Carolina will never be a walk in the park as long as Frank Martin is there. The Tigers are going to be hellish at home but their road schedule could have broken a lot better if they’re thinking about post season play. In all Auburn is going to have to find more than a few upsets to mark this season as the turnaround.


So is this the year?

Auburn fans, and fans of the SEC have been waiting for the Bruce Pearl that stormed into Knoxville a decade ago to show. The Pearl we knew and fell in love with (in so many ways) has been on display on the sidelines, we’re all just waiting on the box scores to change. So then the question becomes when do the box scores change. We’ve talked so far about the void left behind, one Pearl didn’t have to deal with at Tennessee, and the long road back from the abyss of a roster that needed a lot of help. So how close are the Tigers?

Auburn Shot Chart 15-16

They’re pretty close, but not quite there. Auburn last year was a disaster. Injuries, suspensions, early NBA declarations from borderline professionals ended up with a team that sank into the 200s in KenPom despite beating Kentucky in the same season. It’s hard to image a more Jeckyll and Hyde season than what Tiger fans endured a year ago. Yet here we are, with ideas of the inevitable surge towards the top of the conference.

What’s different about this roster versus the past few years is the experience and depth. Players familiar with Pearl, experienced with the league, and a group that is much more talented than the roster Pearl inherited. Two consecutive classes ranked fourth in the league and this years class is currently #1, Pearl has the talent on the roster to start winning and winning consistently. With a mix of T.J. Dunans, Mustapha Heron, Danjel Purifoy, Horace Spencer, New Williams and Bryce Brown the Tigers have the ability to play at the pace Pearl wants to play at and score at the rate he wants to as well.

Depending on who you talk to there are no red flags on this and it’s just onward and upward, but it’s hard to jump all in when the product to date has been so awful. I’m not saying that Bruce Pearl is the guy responsible, he’s digging out of the hole he was thrown into. I’m still a little skeptical but only because I’m waiting for the corner to be turned and he hasn’t done it to date. Why it may not happen this year is that while this is Auburns most talented roster to date, there are still holes being filled with guys we haven’t seen perform on a consistent level. I think Dunans can be a leading scorer, I think Purifoy, Williams, Heron and others can provide more of an impact than others have in the recent past, but we haven’t seen it. I want Bruce Pearl to succeed because sports are supposed to be fun and he makes it fun, but there is still a real question to whether or not this is the season it happens.

My instinct tells me they are close but not quite where Pearl wants this team to be. Another season to let this roster cook and I think you have an NCAA team and a potential top 25 team. Auburn has one of the top recruiting classes in 2017 which should only bolster the depth. This season they’re going to be a fun team to watch as they get up and down the court and I’ll be tuning in more often than not, but I don’t see this as the season of redemption in Auburn. The Tigers are on the brink, but there are still a few programs that are ahead of them and more established, and when you couple that with the leagues troubles the last few years its hard too see a .500 team in league play making the tournament. Although I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers make the NIT.

<— #12 Mississippi State Bulldogs

About the preview: Each SEC site was asked to submit one representative to pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.

If you’d like to submit your picks, here is the Google Form we used:


GP - Games Played

%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team