Last season was supposed to be the year that Bruce Pearl put an improved team on the court for the Auburn Tigers. Unfortunately injuries and other issues derailed those hopes and an upset over Kentucky was all the Tigers had to speak for at the end of the season. This season, Bruce Pearl’s third on the Plains, should be the year that Auburn makes a significant step forward. Thanks to probably the best recruiting class Auburn has ever had, including the Tigers’ first ever 5-star recruit, Bruce Pearl should have enough talent and athleticism to really make a splash in the SEC.
Starting with the 2016 recruiting class, Auburn adds 5-star guard Mustapha Heron, 4-star guard Jared Harper, and 3-star forward Anfernee McLemore. McLemore will provide depth and might be more of a project, but Harper and Heron will certainly contribute early for the Tigers. Heron should be the best all-around Auburn basketball player to touch the court in over a decade from the day he sets foot on the floor. Harper is an undersized guard that knows how to dish the rock and can pull up from range. Harper will have to adjust to playing against bigger guys each and every game, but it shouldn’t take him long.
On top of the normal recruiting class, Auburn also adds LaRon Smith, a shot blocking big from Bethune-Cookman, and Ronnie Johnson, a floor general point guard from Houston via Purdue. LaRon Smith lined up behind or next to Horace Spencer is going to make every team Auburn faces think twice about getting anywhere near the paint. Along with LaRon Smith, the Tigers gain a point guard to replace the early departure of Kareem Canty with Ronnie Johnson from Houston. Johnson averaged a respectable 9.4 PPG and 2.9 APG last season for the Cougars in just 22.3 MPG. Johnson will need to make sure he can distribute the ball the the handful of other weapons the Tigers will have on the offensive end.
The last addition to the 2016-2017 Auburn Tigers is former 4-star recruit, Danjel Purifoy. Tiger fans were dying to see Purifoy take the court last season but due to academic issues with the NCAA, the skilled forward never saw the court. This season, Auburn fans will get to see Purifoy for the first time and will hope he’s worth the wait. Two years ago many people inside the program said Kareem Canty was the best man on the court while sitting out his transfer year and they ended up to be right. Similar things were said of Danjel Purifoy last year. If the reports are true once again, the Tigers will have a very talented player that can play several positions.
All of the newcomers will add a significant boost to the Auburn Tigers this season, but there are still a handful of returners that will continue to shine this season. Bryce Brown comes back after making 78 threes as a freshman and will hopefully get to play more as a spot of shooter with other offensive weapons to pull away opposing defenses. TJ Lang will look to contribute his shooting abilities and leadership as a third year Junior. T.J. Dunans will be healthy once again and should jump right back into being one of Auburn’s top scorers. Horace Spencer, as mentioned earlier, will most likely be the Tigers’ starting center. Albeit a little undersized in the weight department, Spencer should be much improved from last season and can continue on his path towards being a dominant big in the SEC, especially on the defensive end.
Along with bringing in a whole new level of talent, Bruce Pearl has also brought along top non-conference schedules for the Tigers. This season is no different with Auburn playing a handful of neutral court and road games against some of the top teams around the country. If the Tigers can survive the tough non-conference slate and even pull off a few key wins, Auburn might actually have a more favorable SEC schedule this season. The Tigers have several winnable games at home plus get the benefit of Missouri, Ole Miss, and LSU all on the road.
Will the influx of talent and a favorable league schedule be enough for the Tigers to finally make it back to the postseason? Only time will tell, but it’s pretty certain that the Auburn Tigers will be much improved compared the past few seasons, assuming they’re not completely devastated by injuries once again.
#1 Jared Harper, 5’10” 4-star G from Pebblebrook HS
#3 Danjel Purifoy, 6’7” 4-star F from Hargrave Military Academy
#5 Mustapha Heron, 6’5” 5-star G from Sacred Heart HS
#12 LaRon Smith, 6’8” F from Bethune-Cookman
#24 Anfernee McLemore, 6’7” 3-star F from Worth County HS
#35 Ronnie Johnson, 6’0” G from Houston
#0 Horace Spencer, 6’9” F - Led the team in blocks last season with 2.1 BPG
#2 Bryce Brown, 6’3” G - Made 78 3FG and averaged 10 PPG as a freshman
#3 Danjel Purifoy, 6’7” F - 4-star highly anticipated player, forced to sit out last season
#4 T.J. Dunans, 6’5” G - Leading returning scorer, despite sitting out half of last season
#5 Mustapha Heron, 6’5” G - The first 5-star recruit for Auburn basketball
#12 LaRon Smith, 6’8” F - 6th in the country with 3.0 BPG at Bethune-Cookman last season
#35 Ronnie Johnson, 6’0” G - Averaged 9.4 PPG and 2.9 APG in just 22.3 MPG last season at Houston
2016-2017 Season Predictions
|vs North Florida||W|
|vs Georgia State||W|
|vs Eastern Kentucky||W|
|vs USC Upstate||W|
|vs Coastal Carolina||W|
|vs Ole Miss||W|
|@ South Carolina||L|
|vs Mississippi State||W|
|@ Ole Miss||W|
|@ Texas A&M||L|