#86 Auburn Men's Basketball 2016-2017 Preview

Auburn Tigers
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #86
Conference Rank: #8 SEC
Auburn struggled through a difficult 2015-2016 campaign. The Tigers won just 11 games and a mere five in an SEC littered with winnable games. But Coach Bruce Pearl is in year three of his rebuilding process and things are moving quickly. The level of talent is increasing with every recruiting class and Auburn is on the cusp of a breakthrough season. This group may just be a little too young and raw to pull it off, but if everything comes together, watch out for the Tigers come March.
2015-16 Record: 11-20, 5-13
2015-16 Postseason: none
Coach: Bruce Pearl
Coach Record: 26-40 at Auburn, 488-185 overall
Who’s Out:
With three of the top four scorers gone, the youth movement is in full effect. Kareem Canty was a tough loss for Auburn. He left the team in February after averaging 18.3 points and 5.3 assists during his 21 appearances. The Tigers only won two games without him, but they did not win many with him either. Also gone are Tyler Harris and Cinmeon Bowers. Those two were the muscle in the paint. Harris averaged 13.9 points and 7.7 rebounds, while Bowers added 10.5 points and 9.6 rebounds. The only other departure is Jordon Granger. He was a part-time starter and provided a lot of the frontcourt depth. Not nearly as productive of a scorer as the other forwards, Granger could at least shoot the ball and stretch the defense.
Who’s In:
Mustapha Heron and Danjel Purifoy are huge recruits for Auburn and will add to a very deep and talented group on the wings. It is feasible that Heron will be starting at the shooting guard spot and Purifoy at the small forward spot from day one. It is always a risky proposition to put too much pressure on freshmen, but Heron and Purifoy are SEC ready players. Point guard Jared Harper is a great recruit too, but he will likely spend this season backing up graduate transfer Ronnie Johnson. Johnson spent his freshman and sophomore seasons at Purdue before spending last year at Houston. Wherever he has been, Johnson has been a regular starter and a solid point guard. That should continue at Auburn. Mike Cohen and Will Macoy will have difficulties seeing playing time in a suddenly crowded backcourt. The frontcourt needs bodies, but it remains to be seen if they will have enough. The addition of LaRon Smith, a graduate transfer from Bethune-Cookman will certainly help. With Bethune-Cookman last season the 6-8 forward averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks. Do not expect him to score much, but having an experienced big man who can hit the glass and block some shots is huge for Auburn. Freshman Anfernee McLemore figures to crack the regular rotation as well and walk-on Heath Huff may have to play some quality minutes.
Who to Watch:
It is easy to get caught up on the newcomers, but Auburn returns four players who started at least 11 games last season. T.J. Dunans is the star of the group. He missed most of conference play with an injury, but he averaged 11.6 points per game and will provide some much needed senior leadership and team continuity. Dunans will have to compete with Heron and Purifoy for minutes and a starting job though. Bryce Brown and TJ Lang are in similar situations. Brown connected on a team high 78 three-pointers as a freshman and averaged 10.1 points per game. Lang, a 6-7 junior, is a very good shooter too and could look for his shot more often this year. Lang’s height could also prove beneficial. If frontcourt depth becomes an issue, he and Purifoy would be the potential options to eat up a few minutes at the power forward spot. With a wealth of talent on the wings, Coach Pearl may find a way to make that work. New Williams was not one of those players who started some games last season, but a year ago he was supposed to be the point guard of the future. After a slow freshman campaign, Williams has fallen behind Harper and Johnson in terms of potential, but he has more experience at the program than both of them.
Final Projection:
The returning talent in the frontcourt is limited to Horace Spencer. The 6-9 sophomore averaged 5.1 points and 4.9 rebounds last season and must be ready to take on a much bigger role this season. The frontcourt does not have to do much scoring with all of the scoring potential on the wings, but they at least have to be a threat to score and Spencer is the best option for that. Like Smith he is a great shot blocker, averaging 2.1 per game as a freshman, but he needs to do more now. This is a team that will certainly go through some growing pains and after last season it seems likely that not everything will go right for Auburn, but there is a lot of talent here. If the frontcourt has the depth and the scoring threat, Auburn can finish with a winning record in SEC play, be a dangerous team come March and make the NIT while looking ahead to better things in the near future.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Ronnie Johnson, Senior Guard, 9.4 points per game (at Houston)
Mustapha Heron, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
T.J. Dunans, Senior, Guard, 11.6 points per game
LaRon Smith, Senior, Forward, 7.1 points per game (at Bethune-Cookman)
Horace Spencer, Sophomore, Forward, 5.1 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 70.7 (235th in nation, 11th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 78.1 (305, 14)
Field-Goal Percentage: 39.8 (329, 14)
Field-Goal Defense: 44.3 (225, 13)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 8.8 (37, 1)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 34.0 (204, 7)
Free-Throw Percentage: 63.2 (337, 14)
Rebound Margin: -4.4 (306, 14)
Assists Per Game: 11.4 (300, 13)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.8 (278, 14)
Madness 2016 Men’s Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#21 Mustapha Heron         
#84 Jared Harper