Wildest week in Auburn Hoops this season, Y’all. We had the loss to Boston College, then a record-setting win over Coastal Carolina, then the historic (maybe) last second win over Mercer. There’s a lot to dig into, and you’re busy with holiday preparations, so let’s not waste any time. Hit pause on that bowl game you don’t care about, preheat the oven for those gingerbread men your kids will love, and let’s talk hoops.
Since last we talked, your Tigers set an SEC record for three pointers made in a game with 21. That’s a ton. Purifoy and Harper each made five threes in the game. The most impressive statistic about this one to me was Auburn’s starters going 12-15 from the free throw line. That wins you games. Bruce Pearl’s teams have never been known to be great free throw shooting squads, but this Auburn team has had a few games where it can’t miss from the line.
That said, Auburn almost gave a game away from the stripe against Mercer. I want to talk more about this game than the Coastal game simply because I think it will be a more important game as the season progresses. Mercer might be the best team Auburn has beaten this season, and if they aren’t then they are the second best. Mercer came into the game with 5 losses, all to tournament-caliber teams. Mercer has one of the two things that has killed Auburn this season: a veteran scoring guard. The other is a scoring big man, but luckily the Bears don’t have one of those.
Austin Wiley was more than impressive in his debut. In 15 minutes of work—after maybe two practices— he had nine points, three rebounds, and two blocks. That gives him a 24/8 much-too-early-to-matter per40 minute stat-line that makes Auburn fans salivate. My favorite basketball statistic, Usage Percentage, sees Wiley clocking in at 17.2, good for second on the team among rotation players behind only box-score monster Mustapha Heron. That means when he was on the court, Auburn was running the offense through Wiley. This team relies on freshmen and now a high school senior to get things done on offense. Luckily, these guys are good.
Remember TJ Dunans? Not a freshman, the Senior do-everything offensive Swiss Army Knife off the bench has been huge for Auburn in the past two games. He is sometimes prone to turn-overs, but that is now more a factor of his desire to create and move the ball, while earlier in the year it was due to being out of control. Dunans is a factor for Auburn. I wanted Pearl to replace Brown in the line-up with TJ, but now am seeing how important it is to have him coming off the bench to go against the second unit of the other team. It means a lot that he was on the court to take the last shot against Mercer, even though the play wasn’t designed for him.
You know who else was on the court? Austin Wiley.
As good as Anfernee Mclemore has been off the bench at both post spots, and as important as LaRon Smith’s defense has been to this team, Austin Wiley is going to usurp both of them in the rotation at the 5. Once he gets into college basketball conditioning, he won’t come out of the game very much. Auburn won’t play many teams with a better center than him, just due to the lack of talented big men left on the schedule.
Auburn plays TONIGHT against the Oklahoma Sooners at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. On paper this is a very evenly matched game, but I think Auburn has the edge in pure talent. OU has a senior guard named Jordan Woodard leading it in scoring, which has been a bugaboo for Auburn in the past. Look for TJ Lang and Bryce Brown to step up on defense against him.
On Friday Auburn goes to UConn to play one of College Basketball’s blue-blood programs. If Auburn goes 1-1 against these two opponents, I think this team is pretty good, if they go 0-2 we know we are a year away, but if they go 2-0...
UConn has a 7 foot center named Amida Brimah who will give Austin Wiley his baptism by fire. The senior Ghanaian big man has 30 blocks on the season, as much as Spencer and Smith have for Auburn combined. Jalen Adams is another Huskie to watch. Hopefully Bryce Brown is able to contain him on defense, otherwise it could be a long, Purdue-like night for the Tigers.
Things I think about this team
I think this team is going to beat OU and lose to UConn in a close game. I think we see Wiley get more minutes each game, but I think our offense is going to struggle against the Huskies. I think Auburn needs to figure out a half court offense that leads to easy two-point baskets when it isn’t making threes. I think Wiley can help with that.
Things I know about this team
I know Auburn is in the middle of its toughest three game stretch of non-confernece play. Mercer, OU, and UConn will tell us all we need to know about the Tigers before the Georgia game on 12/29.
Things I want to see from this team
I want to see more national appreciation for what Purifoy is doing. Yes, Kentucky has an amazing freshman in Malik Monk, but Danjel Purifoy should challenge him for SEC freshman of the year. Purifoy is playing so well on both ends of the court and I would love to see him get a little more respect from the national media.