2016-2017 Season Review
The third season of the Bruce Pearl era at Auburn was the best yet, as the Tigers went 18-14 (7-11), a seven win improvement from 2015-2016. The Tigers had wins over Texas Tech, TCU, Oklahoma and UConn in the non-conference portion of their schedule, but also fell to a poor Boston College team. The season ended on a sour note when they lost in OT to Missouri, a team that won just 8 games, in the SEC Tournament. The Tigers showed flashes of a bright future, but they were also inconsistent. They’ll look to build off the positives as they enter the 2017-2018 campaign.
The Tigers didn’t lose a ton from last season. Their biggest loss was the graduation of TJ Dunans, a guard who played the third most minutes on the team. Dunans averaged an 8.2/3.5/2.5 line, while also having a steal a game. Guard Ronnie Johnson was also lost to graduation. Johnson averaged 7.8 PPG and 2.3 APG, while also shooting 37.9% from beyond the arc. LaRon Smith, a forward who averaged 2.6 PPG and 2.4 RPG, also graduated. TJ Lang, a 6’7 senior to be, decided to transfer to South Florida. Lang averaged 4.3 PPG.
Auburn finished the season by starting four freshmen and a sophomore, so the returning nucleus is a strong one. Mustapha Heron, a 6’5 sophomore guard, averaged 15.2 PPG and 6.1 RPG as a freshman. Heron also shot 42.3% from three. Heron is an extremely athletic and strong guard.
6’7 sophomore forward Danjel Purifoy averaged 11.5 PPG and 4.7 RPG. Purifoy led the team in threes made with 59. UPDATE 11/7: Purifoy has been suspended indefinitely to avoid eligibility issues amid the FBI investigation. Jared Harper, a 5’10 sophomore guard, put up 11.4 PPG and dished out a team high 3.0 APG. Harper was third on the team with 54 threes. Austin Wiley, a 6’11 sophomore, scored 8.8 PPG, grabbed 4.7 RPG and blocked 1.3 shots a game. Wiley is playing with the Team USA U-19 team at the FIBA U19 World Cup from July 1-9. UPDATE 11/7: Wiley has been suspended indefinitely to avoid eligibility issues amid the FBI investigation. 6’3 junior Bryce Brown returns after averaging 7.5 PPG. Brown hit 56 threes last season at a 40.0% clip. Anfernee McLemore, a 6’7 sophomore forward, came off the bench last season to average 5.4 PPG and 4.5 RPG. 6’9 junior Horace Spencer averaged 4.8 PPG in 19 games last season.
Bruce Pearl brings in 247Sports’ 49th ranked 2017 recruiting class. The class is ranked 10th in the SEC. Malik Dunbar, a 6’6 junior that transferred from JUCO College of Central Florida, is a tough, physical guard/forward. Dunbar put up a 15.6/6.4/2.0 line in his sophomore season. 6’7 SF Chuma Okeke is the 44th ranked player in the 2017 class and the 10th rated SF. Okeke has a 7’0 wingspan and is versatile on the offensive end. He’s also a very good rebounder. Auburn also brings in the 12th ranked PG in the nation in Davion Mitchell. Mitchell is an extremely quick guard that can create his own shot and defend well on the perimeter. Presbyterian transfer Desean Murray will also be eligible this season. As a sophomore as Presbyterian, the 6’3 Murray was a first team All Big South selection. He averaged 20.2 PPG and 7.4 RPG. Murray plays much bigger than his 6’3 frame.
On paper, this Auburn team should make the NCAA Tournament. The talent is there in both the back court and front court. Heron has the ability to be an All SEC performer. Of course, should making the NCAA Tournament and actually doing it are two completely different things. The Tigers need to be more consistent than they were last year. They can’t have letdowns and lose to teams like the Boston College or Missouri teams they lost to last year. If the experience from last season helps them do that, this is a tournament caliber team.