Auburn basketball will be loaded with experience, depth for SEC title defense next season

AUBURN, Ala. — In a few months, Auburn basketball will go from one of the youngest teams in the country to one of the most experienced.

And, in a best-case scenario for the program, it could have a dozen players with Division I experience vying for time in the rotation for Bruce Pearl.

The Tigers will lose only one senior from the 2017-18 squad — point guard Patrick Keim, a walk-on who was awarded a scholarship for his final season. They’ll add VCU transfer guard Samir Doughty to the active roster after he sat out a season.

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And Auburn knows it will have forward Danjel Purifoy for 70 percent of the regular season after news of the NCAA’s decision on his eligibility was announced Tuesday evening.

Pearl expects at least two players, Mustapha Heron and Austin Wiley, to enter the NBA draft “process.” That means they both can decide to come back to school before a June deadline, provided they don’t hire an agent.

Barring any unforeseen attrition, Auburn should have a two-deep at every position at worst and a possible 12-man rotation at best for next season.

PG Jared Harper (Jr.) Davion Mitchell (So.)
SG Bryce Brown (Sr.) Samir Doughty (Jr.)
SF Mustapha Heron (Jr.)* Danjel Purifoy (Jr.) Malik Dunbar (Sr.)
PF Desean Murray (Sr.) Chuma Okeke (So.)
C Austin Wiley (So.)* Anfernee McLemore (Jr.) Horace Spencer (Sr.)

*Expected to consider leaving early for 2018 NBA Draft

Fortunately for Auburn, the two positions it could lose to the NBA draft this summer have multiple players who can fill in the gaps.

Harper will return after being the most important player on a 2017-18 championship-winning team as a sophomore. He established himself as one of the SEC’s best point guards, and that shouldn’t change next season. Behind him, Mitchell has the opportunity to hit the sophomore surge that Harper, Heron and McLemore had last season while continuing to provide great defense.

Over at shooting guard, Brown will return as a more well-rounded 3-and-D leader than what he was at the start of his junior season. Doughty — who will be the subject of an early scouting report here on SEC Country later on Wednesday — was a high-scoring point guard in high school days. His size and rebounding ability makes him a fit at shooting guard, where the Tigers don’t have a natural backup behind Brown.

Heron was Auburn’s starting small forward last season and would most likely keep the role if he returned. With Desean Murray and Chuma Okeke establishing a solid one-two punch at power forward, Purifoy could primarily play his natural position at small forward.

Purifoy could provide extra cover as a small-ball power forward, provided he takes the next step his teammates did as defenders this past offseason. Malik Dunbar would provide a veteran burst of energy off the bench for the back court.

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If Wiley left for the NBA, Auburn would return a recovered Anfernee McLemore and Horace Spencer at center. This position would be low on height, and the Tigers have a scholarship spot open for the upcoming class. A graduate transfer forward or center would be an ideal move for Auburn if Wiley leaves.

In the event Wiley stays in Auburn for a full season, the Tigers would have a go-to scoring presence in the paint that could help in the event of a cold shooting spell from the perimeter. He would give Auburn a taller presence down low, and there’s no denying his talent. If not, McLemore has experience as a high-efficiency, rim-protecting center for a team that only lost three times when he was healthy.

And while Auburn could mix and match positions in the event of foul trouble, being two-deep at every position would be crucial for further development. Players wouldn’t have to split time between two roles. Pearl lamented that having to be an emergency center was tough for Okeke, a natural power forward, in his freshman season.

Auburn is set to have a much deeper and more experienced version of the team that was a wire-to-wire SEC champion and a top-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Both of those factors should do wonders for individual development, especially after an exciting title season.

Pearl said he brought the program back to “where Auburn belongs” last season. This roster, even with a couple of possible early departures to the NBA, has what it takes to make Auburn stay there.

The post Auburn basketball will be loaded with experience, depth for SEC title defense next season appeared first on SEC Country.

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