It’s no secret that the cancelation of the 2020 NCAA Tournament was especially devastating to the burnt orange. Anyone who pays the slightest attention to basketball on the Plains knew immediately that it signaled the end of an era for these Tigers.
All six of the team’s leading scorers will be gone next year. Five are seniors and the other is freshman sensation Isaac Okoro, who’s projected to go 8th overall in Kyle Boone’s latest mock draft. The mass exodus is going to leave the cupboards somewhat bare.
Oddsmakers know it, too. According to Sascha Paruk of sportsbettingdime.com, the Tigers were considered a top-20 March Madness contender in 2020. But they are not even on the board as far as the 2021 futures are concerned.
That could change in the near future, though, and it could change for good.
Pearl Has Auburn Rolling
There is a real chance that the 2020-21 season signals a true sea change for Auburn basketball. Long an afterthought in the SEC, Bruce Pearl has brought unprecedented success to the program in his six years at the helm.
The team has won at least 25 games in each of the last three seasons, going 81-24 overall. In the 2018-19 season, not only did they reach the Final Four for the first time in school history, they also finished the year rated 11th overall in KenPom.com’s efficiency ratings.
Before Pearl arrived, they hadn’t finished better than 40th at KenPom in this millennium.
The 2019-20 team was expected to take a huge step back after losing their three leading scorers from 2018-19: Bryce Brown, Jared Harper, and Chuma Okeke. Instead, the likes of Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, and Austin Wiley made big strides in their development, and of course Okoro played out of this world.
Auburn Is Getting Noticed on the Recruiting Trail
Prospects throughout the country are now starting to recognize Auburn basketball as a viable destination. Okoro was a top-40 prospect last year and the incoming class already includes a top-20 prospect in the form of six-foot-nothing point guard Sharife Cooper, plus PF Chris Moore (#103 at 247Sports) and two-guard Justin Powell (#174).
And that doesn’t even touch on the biggest reason for optimism: the potential to land the #3-rated prospect in the nation, shooting guard Jalen Green.
According to AL.com, at #20, Cooper is already the highest-rated recruit the school has ever landed. Green would obviously shatter that recently-set record, and Auburn is the leader in the clubhouse according to recruiting expects.
Success in college basketball is extremely hard to sustain. Few schools can lose the bulk of their scoring, year after year, and maintain their status as top-25 contenders.
The most-common trait among those that can is established coaches: Auburn fans know too well how effective John Calipari is on the recruiting trail for Kentucky. Mike Krzyzewski always has Duke reloaded; same goes for Bill Self at Kansas. Against all odds, Mark Few turned Gonzaga into a perennial power largely based on his ability to land the best transfers and international prospects.
In Bruce Pearl, Auburn has a top-ten recruiter in the sport right now, if not better. And success breeds success.
If Pearl can overcome another year of massive, wholesale changes at the top of his roster, Auburn could be set up to win, sustainably, for the next decade.