Each week of the season, I will be posting a Wednesday “This Week in Auburn Hoops” article reviewing the past games of the week, and previewing the future games. Each article will also include sections about things I know, things I think, and things I want to see from the team. Hopefully, you guys enjoy it.
Two games, two wins. Can’t do too much better than that. I know this team is young, but the talent is through the roof in comparison to what we have been watching in the past. I can’t remember the last time Auburn had as much depth at the forward position, much less a crop of point guards this skilled.
Since the last column, Auburn has played and beaten two quality mid-major teams. Baylor fans can tell you how good Georgia State is, and North Florida is the type of team that can give a young group fits early in the season. Auburn dismissed both clubs with relative ease and in two different ways.
Against the North Florida Ospreys, Auburn rained three-pointers early and often. Bryce Brown looked like he was shooting into a kiddie pool as he made five three-pointers, many in the first half. Mustapha Heron came right out of the gate and was all over the court early, scoring 10 points before the break.
The second half was puzzling. I didn’t like how invisible Heron was for huge stretches of the second half. He had zero points after halftime, and sometimes you would forget he was on the court. One player you never forgot about was Danjel Purifoy who has emerged as the leader of this team on offense. He seems to be able to do a bit of everything.
Against Georgia State, Purifoy was dynamite. Nineteen points in 19 minutes of work, efficient from the field, and shot well from the free throw line. A tidy, but dominant second half after sitting most of the first half with early foul trouble. Heron was also rock-solid with another 10 points and he led the team with eight rebounds. Perhaps the star of the game was Jared Harper. I love the way he plays. He had 19 points and when he is on the court he is in total control of the pace of the game. That’s pretty special for a freshman. The player he reminds me of, and this is an obscure one, is a guy named TJ Ford who played for the University of Texas a few years ago. Ford was a lightning fast player, like Harper, but Ford couldn’t shoot nearly as well as Jared can. Like Ford, Harper is a skilled passer, and I would like to see his (and the team’s) assist numbers increase.
If you haven’t been able to watch the games, you need to. Even if it is just to see an Auburn team that is actually able to score points.
Auburn plays the Eastern Kentucky Colonels on Thursday night as part of the Cancun Challenge. EKU has won one and lost one, falling to Tennessee Tech. The early parts of the basketball season are a great time to learn about universities you may not have known existed. For instance, Eastern Kentucky was a NCAA tournament team in 2014, but I did not know they existed until writing this article.
Auburn should handle the Colonels. One of the best things about this season has been Auburn’s ability to score in different ways. In the first game they shot threes, but in the second game, the Tigers were able to get to the free throw line, and to attack the rim when the outside shots weren’t falling. This is a young group that has already shown resilience and the ability to understand a fairly complex system Bruce Pearl has implemented for them.
On the 22nd, Auburn will play the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first matchup against a high major opponent this season for the Tigers. That game takes place in Mexico as part of the same Cancun Challenge. The Red Raiders will be a good test for Auburn. We will know a lot more about this team this time next week.
Things I know about this team
Danjel Purifoy is the closest thing to a complete basketball player Bruce Pearl has had since he has been here. No wonder Pearl was so ready to get Danjel on the floor. He scores inside and outside and can defend.
I know Horace Spencer has to start finishing some alley-oops. Spencer is a perfect teammate for guys like Harper and Heron, but he has to put easy points on the board to start demanding some defensive attention away from the scorers.
Things I think about this team
I think Auburn is going to win the Cancun Challenge if the Tigers can stay away from Señor Frogs. That may not seem like a big deal, but it can be huge for a young team to win a tournament early in the year. It builds confidence and can help this group form an identity.
I think Danjel Purifoy is going to lead this team in scoring. I know this is not a thin limb on which to climb, but I really think he is special.
Things I want to see from this team
I want to see Mustapha Heron put two halves together. His first half of the first game was amazing, his second half of the second game was pretty good. If he could get two halves together, it would be very encouraging to see in the early portion of the season. His rebounding as a guard is outrageous. You don’t see that very often, especially at the college level. I stand by my James Harden comparison, and he gets to the free throw line a ton so that holds up, but he rebounds like Dwyane Wade used to.
I want to see this team force 30 turnovers in a game. It is possible if Bruce presses them like he wants. We might even see it happen this weekend, but I think defensive success like that will continue to build this young team’s confidence. If Pearl gets the diamond press going that makes point guards melt, we could see the Tigers become a formidable opponent once league play starts.
Until next week,
War Eagle and Get Buckets.