Fresh of an absolute mauling of former coach Cliff Ellis' Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, Auburn is back at it and hoping to keep the momentum going before another trip to New England later this week to take on Oklahoma and UConn to close out the non-conference schedule.
Auburn's opponent today are the Mercer Bears. Mercer was a tournament darling just a few seasons ago when they knocked off 3rd seeded Duke as the 14th seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Their unquestioned leader is junior guard Ria'n Holland, who is averaging 17.7 points per game. He's followed by junior guard Demetre Rivers who is putting up 12.8 points per game. The Bears do have a few big men, but only 6'9 250 lbs forward Desmond Ringer is seeing significant time. Their roster size matches up fairly well with Auburn's overall, so size shouldn't be a big factor in this one.
Mercer is currently 5-5 on the season with losses to Florida and a bad loss in their last outing against Clemson 47-90. They'll be looking to rebound from that game like Auburn was looking to rebound following their bad loss to Boston College. The difference is they'll be playing in front of a hostile crowd in Auburn Arena. Don't be shocked if Mercer brings some fans to this one, though. Macon isn't terribly far from Atlanta, after all.
The Tigers are led by their trio of stand-out freshmen in Danjel Purifoy, Mustapha Heron, and Jared Harper. Purifoy has scored 27 points in each of the last two games and leads the team averaging 17.6 points per game. He's also second on the team in rebounds with 5.1 per game. He's followed by Mustapha Heron with 15.6 ppg and a team-leading 6.6 rebounds per game. Heron's points aren't as flashy as Purifoy's, but he has been consistent in getting between 10 and 15 in a quiet fashion in every game.
TJ Dunans' return to the lineup against Coastal Carolina made a huge difference for Auburn. He didn't have flashy stats in the box score, but his play does seem to make a difference in affecting the effort of his teammates. Meanwhile, Ronnie Johnson and LaRon Smith have also proven their worth many times over in providing quality minutes and effort without the flashy box score.
As far as we're currently aware, the Tigers are going to be without Horace Spencer and Bryce Brown for the second game in a row after this suspension. Their absence from the floor Thursday night served as an opportunity for Auburn's other freshman to see extended minutes. Anfernee McLemore provided an excellent post presence and has been one of the most productive players on the team when you account for the relatively low number of minutes he's played. He's someone who could see an ever increasing amount of playing time over the next few games.
Oh, by that's not why you're all here, is it? You want to know about the other other freshman. Yes, that's right, 2017 5* signee Austin Wiley makes his debut today. I don't have the first clue how many minutes the 6'11 250 lbs freshman will get, but I do caution everyone not to judge him by what you'll see today. He's only been practicing with his new teammates for 2-3 days and will be getting his first collegiate action. Give him time to adjust to the game and develop chemistry with his fellow Tigers.
Of course, if he comes out and sets the game on fire, then we'll probably still be jumping to conclusions of dreams of the NCAA Tournament because that's just what fans do. The odds are he'll have some struggles and will only get a few minutes in this one for some experience in front of the friendly home-town fans.
How to Watch Live on TV, Stream, and Listen
Time: 12pm Central
TV: SEC Network
Listen: Auburn Sports Network