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SEC Team Previews- Auburn Edition


Auburn Overview


After winning a co-SEC title in the 2017-18 season and reaching the Final Four in

the 2018-19 season, the Auburn fan base had huge expectations for the 2019-20 team,

and the Tigers were well on their way to having another successful season before the

season was halted and ultimately canceled due to the coronavirus. The Tigers amassed

a 25-6 record, including a 15-0 start which saw coach Bruce Pearl and company rise as

high as 4 th in the AP Poll before losing to Alabama in early January. Even with what

could have been for the Tigers, there is still a general sense of optimism from the fans

heading into the 2020-21 season as Bruce Pearl looks to secure his fourth consecutive

20-win season.


Who’s Back, Who’s Gone?


Simply put, Auburn lost a lot of their talent from the 2019-20 squad to graduation

and the NBA Draft. G Samir Doughty, G J’Von McCormick, C Austin Wiley, F Danjel

Purifoy, and F Anfernee McLemore all graduated, and F Isaac Okoro is projected to be

drafted in the top ten of the NBA Draft in November. These players accounted for 84.7%

of Auburn’s points, 73% of Auburn’s rebounds and 89.4% of Auburn’s assists from last

season, which is the most Auburn has lost under Pearl. This mass exodus leaves F

Devan Cambridge (4.2 PPG) as the leading returning scorer and G Allen Flanigan

(2.3 RPG) as the leading returning rebounder for the Tigers. In addition to Cambridge and Flanigan, the Tigers do return former Memphis transfer G Jamal Johnson who played in all thirty-one games last season, but there are no more returning players that played more than fourteen games last season. F Jaylin Williams came on strong at the end of the season and it seems that he has an inside track to a bigger role. G Tyrell Jones, G Javon Franklin and C Babatunde Akingbola all played between five and thirteen games last season and are all factors in the rotation conversation for Bruce Pearl.


Newcomers


Auburn wasn’t active on the transfer market this offseason, but they did bring in

their best recruiting class under Pearl (according to 247’s team rankings). This class,

which is ranked 9 th in the country, is headlined by five-star G Sharife Cooper, who was

teammates with Okoro at McEachern HS in metro Atlanta and projects to be a potential

one-and-done player. Cooper is accompanied by four-star F JT Thor, another top-50ish

recruit from Norcross, GA, as well as a trio of three three-star commits in F Chris

Moore, G Justin Powell, and F Dylan Cardwell, who could be impactful this season

and will provide useful depth in future seasons.


Projected Rotation


G: Sharife Cooper

G: Allen Flanigan

G: Devan Cambridge

F: Jaylin Williams

F: Babatunde Akingbola

Bench: Javon Franklin

Bench: JT Thor

Bench: Jamal Johnson

Bench: Chris Moore

Bench: Dylan Cardwell

Bench: Justin Powell

Bench: Tyrell Jones


Cooper is a lock to be the starting point guard from day one on the Plains, and

the other guard spots seem to be relatively secure for Flanigan and Cambridge. The

questions start to arise in the front court, as Auburn doesn’t have any players that

played incredibly significant roles from that position last season. Jaylin Williams played

rotation minutes for the last few weeks of the season in SEC play, signaling a positive

progression throughout last season. The next step logically is for him to be a starter, but

JT Thor is another strong candidate for that spot. Babatunde Akingbola played thirteen

games last season at center, but he wasn’t able to firmly secure the backup center job.

With Austin Wiley gone, that job is going to be decided between him and Dylan

Cardwell, but Akingbola is the odds-on favorite to start.


Looking to the Future


Auburn has no seniors on its roster, meaning that they have one roster spot open

for the 2021 recruiting class before NBA Draft declarations. This spot is currently filled

by top-five five-star F, Jabari Smith Jr., who committed to the Tigers in early October,

although there has been some speculation that Smith could opt for the G-League. The

Tigers also picked up a commitment from 2022 Rivals four-star C, Sage Tolentino, from

Honolulu, HI, marking the first commitment to their 2022 class that will likely have four

scholarship spots available when Cooper and Smith declare for the draft.


Final Thoughts


Auburn has experienced a lot of turnover in their roster construction heading into

the 2020-21 season, but there is still plenty of reason to be optimistic on their chances

to continue to compete at the highest level in the SEC. Sharife Cooper is going to be

relied upon to create a lot of their offense, but there are some complimentary

experienced pieces in Devan Cambridge and Allen Flanigan that can take some of the

pressure off of Cooper. The challenge that Bruce Pearl has in front of him is to figure

out who can make a difference off of their bench to supplement the minutes that Cooper

is off the floor as well as determining which of the bench players can really step up and

be a consistent performer. If Auburn can develop a strong 7-8-man rotation, which is not

uncommon for them, they have a chance to be as good as anyone, but it all comes

down to the performance of Cooper. If Cooper performs at the level that is expected,

Auburn has a chance to win 20 or more games for the fourth consecutive season and

make the NCAA tournament for the third time under Bruce Pearl.



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Be sure to follow me on both Twitter and Instagram @andrewparrish1


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