Season Preview: Auburn
Last Season: 18-14
Key Losses: T.J. Dunans, Ronnie Johnson
Key Additions: Desean Murray, Chuma Okeke, Malik Dunbar, Davion Mitchell
In Bruce Pearl’s fourth season at Auburn, expectations have gone from low to pretty high. The Tigers return their top four scorers, all of whom are sophomores. Despite all surrounding the program with the latest FBI probe, Auburn has a chance to be a solid team the year in the SEC and make it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.
After playing for the USA U19 team this summer, sophomore Austin Wiley has a lot of pressure on his shoulders going into his first whole college season after he enrolled in December last year. At 6-f00t-11, Wiley averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last season, but those numbers should see an increase in the upcoming year. Joining Wiley in the frontcourt is 6-foot-7 sophomore Danjel Purifoy, who averaged 11.5 points last winter and will play both small and power forward. Purifoy is a threat from the perimeter as he shot 37% from behind the arc in 2016-’17. A newcomer to look out for is 6-foot-7 forward, Chuma Okeke. A four-star recruit, Okeke is a versatile forward who can play multiple positions on the floor and showed his potential on the team’s Italy trip this summer. Junior Desean Murray is another newcomer who could play a vital role in the frontcourt this year. Not precisely tall for a forward, Murray stands at 6-foot-3 but makes up for it with his knack for putting the ball in the bucket as he led the Big South in scoring at Presbyterian in 2015-’16 at 20.2 points per contest.
Mustapha Heron will make a move to shooting guard this year after spending a good amount of his time at the forward spot last season. Heron earned All-SEC Freshman team honors last year after averaging 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds while playing 28.2 minutes per game. Teaming up with Heron will be classmate Jared Harper. At 5-foot-10, Harper is an outstanding playmaker and is very quick. He averaged 11.4 points and 3.0 assists last winter and will likely see a more significant role this year. Other contributors include freshman Davion Mitchell who specializes on defense and junior Bruce Brown who shot 40% last year from three. 6-foot-6 JUCO transfer Malik Dunbar is another weapon off the bench who can make a difference because of his size and athletic ability.
While Bruce Pearl’s team has all the pieces to become a potent offensive group, the defense is still a red flag. The Tigers were 321st last year defensive points per game a statistic that needs to improve if they want to compete this year. Overall, the loaded sophomore class and the hodgepodge of freshman and transfers give people a good reason to not sleep on Auburn this year.
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Jared Harper
SG: Mustapha Heron
SF: Chuma Okeke
PF: Danjel Purifoy
C: Austin Wiley
Photo: The ALCHETRON