clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Big questions surround the Auburn basketball program, but this roster is talented

New, 2 comments

Previewing the #8 team in the SEC, the Auburn Tigers.

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Auburn Preview

#8 Auburn Tigers

Last Season: 18 - 14 (7 - 11 in conference) #82 kenpom

My Prediction: 19 - 10 (9 -9, 8th in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 9.4 - 8.6 (6th in conference)

NCAA Basketball: SEC Tournament-Auburn vs Missouri Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Bruce Pearl | fourth season 44-54

I’m not sure many people imagined it would take Bruce Pearl as long as it has to break through. The hire was celebrated by many SEC fans because of the work Pearl did at Tennessee, quick work at that. But the rebuild on the plains has been much longer and much tougher than most imagined, but it was easy to see from the outside. Auburn hadn’t sniffed the NCAA tournament since 2003 and had very much bottomed out under Tony Barbee, so the rebuild was always going to take longer than most thought. In our 2014 preview the masses picked Auburn to go (roughly) 10-8, instead they went 4-14. In our 2015 preview the masses had less faith picking Auburn to go 8-10. And in 2016 the masses said they’d go about 9-9. The Tigers struggled to go 4-14 in 2014, 5-13 in 2015, and last year they hit 7-11. But the progress has been real, and the roster has been solidified, Auburn could be the SEC’s breakout team this year. The question remains, how much of Chuck Person’s FBI arrest will impact the way Pearl is viewed within the program.

Seat Temp: WARM

2017 auburn preview 10 year look

Can the Tigers break out enough to make the NCAA tournament? Perhaps! Pearl finally has a talented roster with decent depth and enough experience they should be pretty good. The streak is up to 13 years and counting.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Desean Murray transfer 32 59.71% 12.29% 11.71% 10.76%
Mustapha Heron transfer 34 67.36% 18.90% 11.04% 29.14%
Davion Mitchell transfer 34 42.80% 4.53% 8.87% 5.85%
33.97% 35.72% 31.62% 45.75%

T.J. Dunans was a highly recruited JUCO player a few years ago and never seemed to get on track the way many expected. He was always a high volume-low efficiency scorer and he did that very well at Auburn. Perhaps removing a low-efficiency player with a high number of possessions off the roster can end up being a good thing for a talented youthful roster? Ronnie Johnson was a steadying presence in limited minutes last season, if there’s one guy on this list who I think Auburn may miss the most it’s him. LaRon Smith provided a decent boost off the bench with rebounding and shot blocking. But I do think the roster will miss TJ Lang, who wasn’t a primary threat but did a lot of little things that often went unnoticed. He was a great rotational defender and was a good enough shooter to draw defenders away from the rim.

AND, WHO’S BACK?

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
Bryce Brown SR CG 33 75.82% 18.83% 61.18% 15.90%
Jared Harper JR PG 34 76.33% 16.13% 71.16% 31.29%
Chuma Okeke SO CF 34 53.98% 9.16% 61.16% 8.65%
Anfernee McLemore JR POST 27 38.61% 7.22% 69.34% 4.41%
Malik Dunbar SR WING 34 35.37.% 6.65% 53.01% 3.16%
Horace Spencer SR POST 34 43.17% 5.75% 67.52% 4.94%
Thomas Collier* JR POST 5 0.74% 0.07% 32.26% 0.00%
Cole Blackstock* SR POST 13 1.40% 0.14% 69.93% 0.07%
Brett Easterling* SO CG 8 1.10.% 0.07% 26.60% 0.00%
Will Macoy* JR WING 10 1.25% 0.07% 13.89% 0.04%
Devontae Williams* JR CG 8 0.81% 0.04% 18.12% 0.05%
Danjel Purifoy JR CF SUSPENDED
Austin Wiley JR POST SUSPENDED
Samir Doughty SO CG TRANSFER
64.13% 63.31% 68.49%
NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Texas Christian Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Austin Wiley | SOPHOMORE | POST

Auburn got a much needed interior post presence boost when Wiley, a 5-star in the 2017 class, reclassified and joined Auburn in December. Wiley’s numbers wouldn’t blow anyone away with just around 9 points and 5 rebounds, but he was what Auburn needed, which is a big body on the inside. Where things get interesting is Wiley seemed to get better and more efficient down the stretch, and made the USA U19 team where he shined in scrimmages and games. A preseason injury slowed his progress this preseason, and Wiley’s name was floated around in connection to the FBI probe. If there are any eligibility concerns with Wiley that will set Auburn back. But If Wiley can carry his USA Basketball momentum into the season the Tigers could have an excellent reliable big to man the front court this season, and potentially give them the boost they need into the post season.

Aside from Wiley the Tigers have a host of very talented players returning. Bruce Pearl has recruited well since he’s gotten to Auburn and now they’ll have the depth to show for it. Leading the way is Danjel Purifoy, who was Pearl’s first big signee when he took over the job. Purifoy sat out his first year but had a strong introduction by scoring 17.5 ppg over the first nine games, but a midseason injury kept him out for three games and returned without as much firepower. Jared Harper played a major role as the starting point guard last year and played well for a freshman, however he needs to improve his efficiency with the ball and take better shots this season. Horace Spencer is one of the top shot-blocking defenders in the SEC but now has to recover from season ending shoulder surgery. Bryce Brown took a reduced role from his freshman campaign and shined again. He’s a sharpshooter who improved upon his percentages from his first year and could play a hefty role on the wing this year. Anfernee McLemore is a dynamic athlete with a relatively unpolished offensive game but a superior defensive one, he’s a prime role guy for this team. Desean Murry has breakout potential after averaging over 20 ppg as a sophomore at Presbyterian, Murray transferred and becomes eligible this season.

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Texas Christian Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Mustapha Heron | SOPHOMORE | WING

When Mustapha Heron chose Auburn, it was a shot across the bow that Bruce Pearl was ready to break through. Heron was a highly coveted recruit and he’s lived up to the billing so far. He averaged nearly 30 minutes per game and had a very efficient 63% true shooting percentage while averaging over 15 points per game, and leading the team. If Heron continues to get better the league will need to watch out. Where Heron needs to improve on the offensive side of the ball is from 2-point range where he was a meager 44%. And if Heron decides to step it up defensively he could be a Player of the Year level candidate.

THEN, WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
So Jamal Johnson 6'3 178 TRANSFER MEMPHIS CG
Jr J'von McCormick 6'0 170 - - PG

Auburns biggest 2017 target reclassified halfway through the season and joined the team so the class took a small hit when Austin Wiley joined the team early, but the Tigers still reeled in a couple 4-star players in Chuma Okeke and Davion Mitchell. Mitchell should contend for minutes at the point guard spot right away. He’s an explosive athlete with some rough edges to his game but a good fit for a Bruce Pearl team. Okeke has a little bit of a Braxton Key quality to his game. He’s not the quickest or most explosive, but he’s efficient in movement and a very good ball player. He’ll also play a big role early. Malik Dunbar is an unheralded JUCO recruit who is more of a natural wing, but strong enough to play a small ball four. Last, Samir Doughty transferred in from VCU after their coaching change, Doughty was the Rams 4th leading scorer.

DEPTH CHART

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard Jared Harper J'von McCormick
(2) Combo Guard Bryce Brown Samir Doughty Jamal Johnson
(3) Wing Danjel Purifoy Malik Dunbar
(4) Combo Forward Anfernee McLemore Chuma Okeke
(5) Post Austin Wiley Horace Spencer

I don’t have Malik Dunbar on the two deep, but I fully expect Bruce Pearl to play his 11 returning scholarship players and it frankly wouldn’t surprise me to see Dunbar play as much as 20 mpg. I look for Heron and Wiley to play the bulk of the minutes at their respective positions, but there are a lot of good players on this roster and guys that provide a ton of flexibility. You can slide Heron to the ‘3’ and play more guards, Purifoy and Dunbar are more than capable of muscling up inside if you wanted a 4-out-1-in style offense. And Okeke is skilled enough he could play the wing in a big lineup. Either way, Pearl has a lot of options.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 19 - 10 | KenPom Projected Record: 18 - 11

NCAA Basketball: AAC Conference Tournament-Connecticut vs Cincinnati David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 6 Home South Alabama 174 W
Nov 9 Home Washington 46 W
Nov 14 Home Mississippi College - W
Nov 19 Neutral Xavier 55 W
Nov 20 Neutral Duke / SDSU 2 / 65 L
Nov 21 Neutral - - -
Nov 28 Home Saint Peters 196 W
Dec 4 Home UNC-Asheville 270 W
Dec 8 Home Dayton 100 W
Dec 15 Home* UAB 162 W
Dec 19 Away North Carolina State 36 L
Dec 22 Home Murray State 130 W
Dec 29 Home North Florida 228 W
avg 139.7

You gotta think Bruce Pearl is hoping for Clemson to land as their matchup in the Charleston Classic, because there aren’t a lot of challenges on this schedule. Temple is usually a tough out if the Tigers face off against them in round two. UAB should be better than a season ago, but not worlds better and I think you should mark that as a win. Middle Tennessee is going to be good again, but that’s a virtual home game for Auburn. And even UConn looks like a good matchup on paper but the Huskies are not what they once were, though maybe with Jaylen Adams and a healthy Alterique Gilbert they can break through this year. Really, Auburn shouldn’t lose more than three games with this schedule.

CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 6 Home South Alabama 174 W
Nov 9 Home Washington 46 W
Nov 14 Home Mississippi College - W
Nov 19 Neutral Xavier 55 W
Nov 20 Neutral Duke / SDSU 2 / 65 L
Nov 21 Neutral - - -
Nov 28 Home Saint Peters 196 W
Dec 4 Home UNC-Asheville 270 W
Dec 8 Home Dayton 100 W
Dec 15 Home* UAB 162 W
Dec 19 Away North Carolina State 36 L
Dec 22 Home Murray State 130 W
Dec 29 Home North Florida 228 W
avg 139.7

If Auburn can turn matchups against South Carolina and Georgia into a 3-1 or even 4-0 record, my outlook for them gets a whole lot better. Go 2-2 and I think they’re what we thought they’d be, talented but inconsistent and likely a .500 league team. Splitting with Ole Miss, Arkansas and Alabama should be expected, big time growth would be winning one of those road games as well. We know Auburn will be tough at home again where they’ve got Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M, all three are likely to be ahead of Auburn in the standings. So it’s yet another chance to prove themselves. And road games against Missouri, Florida and Tennessee should all be tough but winnable contests. This Auburn team could really exceed expectations by a lot.

OVERVIEW

Of all the teams in the SEC the Auburn Tigers have been the most volatile under Bruce Pearl. Capable of huge wins and horrendous losses, beautiful uptempo exciting offense and horrific lazy poorly communicated defense, Auburn is never not interesting. But it’s time to graduate from interesting to good.

Last season they showed flashes of coherent enough defense but it was so inconsistent. And their defensive glitches led to some downright obscene PPP in conference play. 1.23 vs Georgia, 1.26 vs Kentucky, 1.23 vs South Carolina, 1.37 vs Florida? Those are all awful. The Tigers spent most of the conference season defending at over a point per possession, which makes winning a whole lot harder. A lot of the time the Tigers offense was good enough to keep them in games, but if you’re hoping to head to the NCAA tournament, at some point the Tigers have to make a stop.

NCAA Basketball: Auburn vs Boston College Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

If the Tigers figure out something defensively they’ve got a chance to be very special. Legitimate depth coupled with exciting talent and EXPERIENCED talent, something they haven’t had until this year. 12 years of experience on the projected two-deep and all but two of those years inside the Bruce Pearl Auburn program. With Purifoy, Heron and Wiley in their second year along with a talented supporting cast, there’s a legitimate thought this could be a special year for the Tigers.

It’s impossible to talk about Auburn without bringing up Chuck Person and the FBI investigation. This is obviously the last thing Bruce Pearl needed heading into an important season, but it’s sitting on the table. Now all we need to know is how much of a distraction it is going to be for the program, and if the fallout could mean some players dealing with eligibility issues which makes it difficult to project where Auburn is going to end up. It’s widely believed Austin Wiley and his family was one of the recruits named in one of the released reports. If Wiley is ruled ineligible for some reason that alters the outlook for Auburn quite a bit. We don’t have any reason to believe there are any ineligible players currently on the roster but the problem is we just don’t know. Until the season starts I think there is a big giant question mark hanging over the Auburn Tigers season and it’s not just whether or not they can figure out their defensive rotations.

If all is equal and everyone plays, I don’t see any reason why Auburn couldn’t insert themselves into the conversation for an elite SEC team. They’ve got everything you could want from a talent standpoint. They can sub 6 players in and not lose a lot. This really is Bruce Pearl’s first complete roster he’s had since taking over on the plains. I’m just skeptical they’ll get through the NCAA clean, and if they do I’m still skeptical they can defend well enough to be as good as I think they can be.


About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one 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, click here for the Google Form we used.


GLOSSARY

* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player

GP - Games Played

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

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

%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.