David Cloninger

Previewing SEC basketball: Auburn

Terri Williams-Flournoy
Terri Williams-Flournoy AP

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Oct. 29 Alabama

Oct. 30 Arkansas


Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Bruce Pearl (26-40 Auburn, third year; 488-185, 22nd year)

2015-16 record (SEC finish): 11-20 (5-13)

2015-16 postseason: None



2016-17 media predicted finish: 11

DC’s predicted finish: 9

He’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): F Cinmeon Bowers (10.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg), F Tyler Harris (13.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg), G Jonathan Walker (0.6 ppg, 0.3 rpg), F Jordon Granger (4.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg), G Cole Stockton (0.6 ppg, 0.3 rpg), G Kareem Canty (18.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, pro), G Zach Allison (0.0 ppg, 0.7 rpg, transferred to Wallace State Community College), G Tahj Shamsid-Deen (2.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg, quit basketball due to health), C Trayvon Reed (DNP last year, transferred to Texas Southern)

He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): G Jared Harper, F Anfernee McLemore, G Mustapha Heron, G Ronnie Johnson (Sr., transferred from Houston, eligible this year), G DeSean Murray (RJr., transferred from Presbyterian, ineligible this year), F LaRon Smith (Sr., transferred from Bethune Cookman, eligible this year), F Heath Huff, G Will Macoy, G Mike Cohen

Top returners: 6-5 G T.J. Dunans 11.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg), 6-3 G Bryce Brown (10.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg), 6-7 G TJ Lang (7.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg)

It never took this long for Bruce Pearl to win at his previous stops. He never won less than 22 games per year at Southern Indiana, had a 16-13 winning record at Milwaukee before three straight 20-win seasons and his lowest win total at Tennessee was 19 – in his final season.

Did he bite off more than he could chew at Auburn, which has the longest NCAA tournament drought of any SEC team (last appearance: 2003)? Maybe, but he feels better days are here.

And really better days are coming next year.

Pearl’s next recruiting class is ranked third in the country, and it could join Mustapha Heron on the Plains next year. Heron, the first consensus five-star recruit in Auburn history, is quite a talent but at 6-foot-4, he may not be a lock to head to the NBA next spring.

It’s exciting to see Pearl do what he does best, but he may have to wait until next year to really see his efforts pay off. This year, he’s replacing a lot of lost talent and again throwing his team directly into the bonfire.

The Tigers will have to play small with only two players 6-foot-9 or above (sophomore Cole Blackstock, who only played in five games last year, and 6-10 freshman Heath Huff). Their strength has to be from the backcourt.

Heron is a wing while the two T.J.’s (Dunans and Lang) can help him out. Ronnie Johnson came from Houston to play point. The league is wide-open and if Pearl can navigate Auburn through another hard non-conference schedule, perhaps it can reach the postseason.

Pearl never had a problem reaching the NCAA tournament, only missing it twice in his first 19 years. He hasn’t come close at Auburn.

That’s going to change.

It just may not be this year.


Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Terri Williams-Flournoy (71-61 Auburn, fifth year; 214-165, 13th year)

2015-16 record (SEC finish): 20-13 (8-8)

2015-16 postseason: Second round, NCAA tournament



2016-17 media predicted finish: 7

DC’s predicted finish: 7

She’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): F Cabriana Capers (1.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg), F/C Tra’Cee Tanner (11.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg), G Jonika Garvin (1.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg, transferred to Palm Beach State (Fla.) College)

She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): G Tyra Johnson, F Justice Wright (RJr., transferred from Clemson, ineligible this year), G Sira Toure (So., transferred from Weber State, eligible after first semester this year), G Daisa Alexander, G Emari Jones (So., transferred from Shawnee Community College, eligible this year), F Ekiya Gray (Jr., transferred from Blinn Junior College, eligible this year)

Top returners: 5-10 G Brandy Montgomery (14.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg), 6-1 G/F Katie Frerking (11.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg), 5-6 G Janiah McKay (9.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg)

The Tigers were one of the most surprising teams in the SEC last year, challenging for a top-four finish and making the NCAA tournament. They return a lot of talent and are known for their pressing defense, but how far they go this year will depend on how well they play without the big girls.

Auburn’s tallest eligible player is 6-foot-2 and it only has two other players above 6-0. It’s not really a problem, per se, because Coach Flo likes to play fast and recruits speedy, ball-hawking guards.

But when they run up against teams who stock 6-4 and 6-5 players, and opponents know all they have to do is throw the ball high, Auburn doesn’t have much of a choice on how to defend it. It’s foul and hope they can’t shoot free throws.

Auburn upgraded in athleticism and won’t have to rely on straight speed coming off the bench, and Brandy Montgomery can be one of the SEC’s top players. But they will miss Tra’Cee Tanner, and are hoping to bridge the gap between now and getting 6-4 transfer Justice Wright (from Clemson, the daughter of Sharone Wright) eligible next year.

The non-conference schedule has a brutal three-game stretch of West Virginia, Indiana and Kansas State but is otherwise manageable. Auburn needs to get off to a good start because the beginning of the SEC schedule – at Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss, at Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Kentucky – is not conducive to continuing one.

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