Location: Auburn, Alabama
Head coach: Bruce Pearl (5th Season)
2018-19 record: 30-10 (11-7 in the SEC)
Last time in NCAA Tournament: 2019, lost to Virginia in NCAA Final
Top three returning scorers: Samir Doughty, senior, guard, 7.3 ppg; Austin Wiley, senior, center, 6.9 ppg; Anfernee Mclemore, senior, forward, 6.7 ppg
Key loss: Bryce Brown, guard, 15.9 ppg, 40 games started, graduated and signed with Sacramento Kings
Exciting newcomer: Isaac Okoro, freshman, 5-star recruit by Rivals, won gold medal with Team USA U17 team, averaged 19.7 ppg and 10.1 rpg in an undefeated 2018-19 where McEachern High School won the Georgia State title
Date of game: Tuesday, November 26th (Contingent on beating Richmond in opening round of Legends Classic)
Location: Barclay’s Center, Brooklyn, New York
Preview: 2018-19 was a special season for the Auburn Tigers, especially in the latter half of the year. The Tigers finished fourth in the SEC regular season standings, but rattled off 12 straight wins down the stretch to win the SEC Tournament and reach the Final Four. The Tigers had one of the more impressive runs in tournament history, as they knocked off Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky before falling to National Champion Virginia.
2018 was special, but 2019 presents some challenge for the Tigers. In addition to their best player in Bryce Brown, the Tigers also lose their second and third leading scorer in Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke. Harper declared early and went undrafted, but now is signed with the Phoenix Suns. Okeke was a first round selection by the Orlando Magic.
Obviously, that’s a lot of talent to replace on any roster. However, Bruce Pearl returns some key pieces to his squad from last year’s team that will have to move into bigger roles. In addition to the returning scorers listed above, Pearl also brings in a top-20 recruiting class to help fill some voids.
While the names may be relatively unknown, you expect them to have a significant impact this season. Additionally, Pearl’s fast paced athletic style of play favors developing players. Playing grab and go basketball allows players to attack rather than think. Harper and Okeke’s return would have the Tigers as a top-ten team, but even without them Auburn should still be in the top-25 throughout the season.
Score Prediction: 82-66 Auburn