Odds to win Title: +4500
2017-18 Record: 26-8 (13-5 SEC)
NCAA Tournament: Lost to Clemson in Second Round
Auburn faced NCAA sanctions last year that kept it out of the SEC title tournament. It even lost its leading scorer (Mustapha Heron), but head coach Bruce Pearl likes the versatility of his team this year and feels its depth should propel it back into the realm of elite programs.
The biggest newcomer for the Tigers this year will be 6’11” center Austin Wiley. He was ruled ineligible last year, but he is an Alabama native which should curry favor among the Auburn fanbase. He is strong, physical and a power 5, which could eventually translate to an NBA Draft selection, but after testing those waters a year ago, he decided to return to the NCAA. He is a two-way force that should be a staple this season for the Tigers.
Danjel Purifoy also served a suspension last year, and he will be back o the court to give the team a strong stretch 3/4-man who is going to help a lot with his shooting touch.
Chuma Okeke was the No. 2 rebounder on the team last year, and he is back as well. There is plenty of depth. Anfernee McLemore missed the tail-end of last season with a couple simultaneous injuries to his ankle and tibia, but following a successful surgery, he is expected to be an important role player for Auburn this season. He was the No. 5 leading scorer a year ago in just 21 minutes per game.
He also blocked 2.7 shots per game as a sophomore, giving the Tigers a valuable rim protector. Horace Spencer is quite similar and is said to have improved his offensive game quite a bit. That remains to be seen.
Bryce Brown made the first All-SEC team last year and nearly managed to set a school record for made threes (107 made). Defenses will certainly key in on Brown, but Auburn will probably counteract that by pushing the pace even more so. Jared Harper is a 5’10” point guard who is capable of doing just that, and he is a tremendous playmaker who will get the team out in transition frequently.
Malik Dunbar adds backcourt (and frontcourt) depth as a 3-positional player who will see minutes due to that positional versatility. VCU transfer Samir Doughty and JUCO transfer J’Von McCormick both will factor in, and Doughty averaged nine points and four rebounds per game as a redshirt freshman at VCU. McCormick, meanwhile, adds yet more playmaking ability to a team hardly short on it, already.
The Tigers will be happy to be real SEC contenders again after cleaning sanctions, but it faces a tough task in trying to translate that to better tournament success. After all, last year it lost badly to Clemson in the second round, and the team while improved, is quite similar to the squad last year. It ranked atop the SEC in scoring, but it was just No. 11 in field goal percentage, so improving offensive efficiency should be atop Bruce Pearl’s checklist for this team.