SEC Season Preview: Auburn Tigers

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 30th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with the Auburn Tigers.

Strengths. The Tigers should not struggle to put the ball in the basket this year, at least not from the outside. Bruce Pearl’s first team at Auburn will feature not only the SEC’s leading returning scorer, KT Harrell (18.3 points per game), but also the country’s leading returning scorer Antoine Mason (25.6 PPG at Niagara). Only Doug McDermott scored more points per game than Mason did in 2013-14. Whether that translates against tougher competition still remains to be seen, but sophomore Tahj Shamsid-Deen and New Mexico State graduate transfer K.C. Ross-Miller offer support in the backcourt too. Each of these players brings something different to the table: Harrell is a high volume three-point shooter (35.9% 3FG); Mason gets the bulk of his points at the rim or from the free throw line (10.8 free throw attempts per game); Shamsid-Deen has upside (9.5 points per game as a freshman); and Ross-Miller can create for others (3.5 assists per game). Despite the differences, these four should fit well together in Pearl’s up-tempo system, and if nothing else, make for some entertaining games on the Plains.

Tahj Shamsid-Deen could be poised for a breakout sophomore season at Auburn (photo courtesy cbssports.com).

Tahj Shamsid-Deen could be poised for a breakout sophomore season at Auburn (photo courtesy cbssports.com).

Weaknesses.  Rebounding could be a problem for the Tigers this season. From a straight numbers perspective, Auburn lost Asauhn Dixon-Tatum and Allen Payne to graduation, who finished first and second on the team in rebounds per game. These two players weren’t supporting a great rebounding team either, as the Tigers finished 278th in the country in total rebounds last season. It also doesn’t help that Pearl will likely need to give heavy minutes to Mason, Ross-Miller and Shamsid-Deen, all of whom stand at a height under 6’1.’’ The hope for the Tigers is that raw sophomore Matthew Atewe can stay healthy and build on the solid 13.5 percent total rebounding rate he posted last year. JuCo transfer Cinmeon Bowers and freshmen Jack Purchase and T.J. Lang can also help out on the glass.

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What We Can Expect From Auburn in Bruce Pearl’s First Year

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 16th, 2014

The SEC’s basketball profile will continue to flounder until some of the other 12 programs other than Florida and Kentucky develop into consistent winners. The conference needs the depth of several year-in, year-out NCAA bid contenders to complement those two crown jewels. Suddenly, Auburn, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2008-09 and hasn’t been ranked in over 10 years, looks as ready as anyone to make that leap. The reason? Simple. Bruce Pearl’s return to the conference.

Bruce Pearl is back in the SEC, albeit in a different shade of orange.

Bruce Pearl is back in the SEC, albeit in a different shade of orange.

The former Milwaukee and Tennessee coach has already provided a jolt in fan support and recruiting since being hired last spring. For example, in late August he signed three key recruits in four days to give Auburn one of the current best 2015 recruiting classes in the conference. It’s a virtual certainty that this excitement will eventually lead to on-court improvement, but how soon is it reasonable to expect? If his past performance is any indication, it might be sooner than you think. Below we examine how Pearl fared in each of his first years leading the Panthers and the Vols.

2001-02 Milwaukee Panthers

What happened: Pearl took over when Wisconsin hired a coach named Bo Ryan, who had gone only 30-27 in his two seasons at Milwaukee. At 16-13 overall, the Panthers won only one more game in Pearl’s first season than they had the year before, and there was no postseason. Nevertheless, Milwaukee jumped to third place in the Horizon League (11-5) after finishing fifth (7-7) in Ryan’s last year (in what was then unimaginatively called the “Midwest Collegiate Conference”). Not surprisingly, Pearl revved up the pace of action (72.7 possessions per 40 minutes) over Ryan’s more disciplined approach (65.3), but this didn’t necessarily yield better efficiency since the Panthers scored and allowed roughly the same number of points per possession and didn’t see a big uptick in free throw attempts. The biggest reason for the slight improvement in the conference standings seems to have been better play from a trio of junior guards: Clay Tucker, Ronnie Jones, and Jason Frederick. The diminutive Jones (5’9’’) made the biggest jump, upping his scoring average by seven points per game and dishing out an additional assist per contest.

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Bruce Pearl to Auburn Sends Shock Waves Through SEC

Posted by David Changas on March 18th, 2014

Talk about hitting a grand slam. As first reported by ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman, Auburn hired former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl as its new head coach this morning. Pearl, who is still subject to a show-cause penalty until August and will not be able to have contact with recruits over the summer, inherits the reins of the program from Tony Barbee, who was fired last week after four seasons at the school. Needless to say, the hire is a major splash for a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003 and has essentially been an SEC also-ran throughout the tenures of Barbee and his predecessor, Jeff Lebo.

For Bruce Pearl, a Different Shade of Orange Coast is in Store at Auburn

For Bruce Pearl, a Different Shade of Orange Coast is in Store at Auburn

Pearl’s hiring has to be considered a surprise. Many thought Auburn was overreaching when there were indications that Pearl was going to be considered for the vacancy, as the former Milwaukee and Tennessee head coach figured to be a candidate for several higher-profile jobs. But Pearl obviously felt the challenge was the right one for him at this time. He led Milwaukee to two NCAA Tournament bids before landing his first major job at Tennessee in 2005, where he resurrected the Volunteer program by taking it to the Big Dance in each of his six seasons in Knoxville, including its only Elite Eight appearance in 2010. As evidenced by their reaction on Twitter and message boards, many Tennessee fans see the move as a punch in the gut. Dissatisfaction with Cuonzo Martin had led many to believe that it was possible Pearl would return to the school, and a petition for his rehire had garnered over 36,000 signatures among Volunteer fans earlier this year.

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