Auburn Basketball Not Quite Ready For Prime Time

Posted by David Changas on January 7th, 2015

When Bruce Pearl took over a moribund Tennessee program in 2005, he inherited a team that had underachieved and had not been to the NCAA Tournament in four years. He went on to prove that team had some talent, as he took it to an SEC East championship and a #2 seed in the Big Dance. When Auburn decided to take the plunge with Pearl to give him another shot at coaching in the SEC, he jumped at the opportunity. This time, though, with no stars like C.J. Watson or Chris Lofton on the roster, things have not come as easily as they did in Knoxville, and Pearl has some work to do before he can even think about playing meaningful games in March. Still, there is little doubt that the revitalized head coach has things moving in the right direction, and that he will eventually return this downtrodden program to prominence.

Bruce Pearl will return Auburn to prominence (

Bruce Pearl will eventually return Auburn to prominence, but not this year (

Despite the confidence that the media showed in Pearl’s coaching abilities when it picked the Tigers to finish eighth in the SEC standings, Auburn’s roster consists of a mishmash of castoffs, players few high-major programs wanted, and athletes who appear to be better-suited for the gridiron than the basketball court. Senior guard KT Harrell, a preseason all-SEC selection, is the team’s best player (17.9 PPG), but he has little help around him. Pearl was able to convince Niagara transfer Antoine Mason to join him, and while Mason can score, he is an inefficient offensive player and struggles defensively with quick guards on the perimeter. As a team, the Tigers currently rank 241st in adjusted offensive efficiency, per, and that showed in Tuesday’s 64-52 loss to Vanderbilt in Nashville. They shot 31.6 percent for the game, and despite a spirited second half effort, the Tigers never got close than five points in the last 20 minutes. Auburn also was significantly outrebounded (-20) by the Commodores, and other than having the league’s leading rebounder in Cinmeon Bowers (11.3 RPG), the Tigers struggle in that area due to their extremely limited size.

While Pearl is having his struggles now, they are not likely to last. Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings already notes the improvement that Pearl has brought to the Auburn program: “Bruce has done a great job with them,” he said after the game. “I saw them earlier, and it wasn’t pretty. They’re so much better than they were early in the season.” While Pearl is clearly frustrated with the hand he has been dealt and the occasional lapses in effort from his group, the 54-year old remains upbeat about what he is building. “I’m proud of the way the guys have competed. […] We’re trying to carve out our identity. I’m not happy with where we are offensively, but I’m happy with our effort.”

There is no question that Auburn will struggle to win more than a handful of games in what appears to be an improved SEC, although the Tigers are likely to steal a game or two just as they did last month against Xavier. But with a top-10 recruiting class headed to Auburn that includes three four-star players as well as current freshman Trayvon Reed — recently granted his eligibility — Pearl will make Auburn basketball matter again soon enough. And while things aren’t unfolding the way it did in Pearl’s first foray into the conference a decade ago, this is a coach who went to the NCAA Tournament in each of his six seasons at Tennessee. He certainly hasn’t forgotten how to build a program, and despite his sabbatical from the game, regular appearances in the Big Dance will eventually will become the norm on The Plains so long as he is around.

David Changas (166 Posts)

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