The 2015-16 college basketball season is completely in the books, now. So, it's time to start looking ahead to 2016-17.
After two seasons of Bruce Pearl as Auburn's head coach, some fans may be starting to wonder just how good Bruce is. When is the turnaround going to happen? Did we hire the right coach?
If you're one of those fans, then please reevaluate things a bit more. Bruce is fine. He's a great coach. He loves it in Auburn. As we've discussed in the other articles looking at this past season, he just had a ton of things go wrong.
One thing Bruce Pearl tried to do when he arrived at Auburn was fill much-needed depth and talent with JUCOs, transfers, and graduate transfers. Some of those worked out (Harris, Ross-Miller), some of them were or have been hampered by injury (Antoine Mason, T.J. Dunans), some of them were great at times but had other issues that kept them from always playing at their full potential (Bowers, Canty). Whatever the reason, the plan didn't work quite as well as he hoped.
So where are things as we approach Year 3? Well, we're starting to see Bruce and his staff's recruiting ability pay off. The 2015 class was good. The 2016 class was one of the best with Auburn's first 5* signee. 2017 is shaping up to look even better. The future is very bright in terms of talent.
There will still be holes to fill next season, though. Auburn will probably add a graduate transfer. There's one visiting at the end of the month, as a matter of fact. I believe he has two years he can play, too.
Examining the Future Roster
So how does the roster look? Back during the season, commenter Tuffy11111 posted a nifty little tool in the post-game thread for the Tigers' win over Georgia. I decided to appropriate said tool and alter it a bit to use for roster management purposes.
He went all the way out to 2018-19 in his projections. I'm stopping at 2017-18 because I don't think there's any way Auburn's roster goes through a natural progression with every single player. There's a decent chance that Danjel Purifoy is gone after one season at Auburn. Will Mustapha Heron be more than a one-and-done? We don't know. It's possible, however. So, I try not to get too excited at thinking about what a roster filled with 5-stars could be.
That being said, let's take a look. Below you'll see the player's names, their position (just guard or forward), and how many recruiting stars they had according to the 247Sports composite. That will let us have some sort of judge on the "talent level" of the team. It's not perfect by any stretch, since while 247Sports ranks JUCO players, their composite does not. So, T.J. Dunans and Cinmeon Bowers have (NR) next to their names while both were considered 4*s by 247Sports.
For starters, here is the roster from the 2015-16 season.
This is a pretty good progression, however, that is not in any way due to good roster management by the previous regime. There's a small sophomore class, which was Bruce Pearl's first recruiting class because Pearl chose the JUCO route over freshmen in his first class. Of the players on this team, only Jordon Granger, Tahj Shamsid-Deen, and TJ Lang were Tony Barbee recruits. Lang was the lone Barbee-recruited player that Bruce signed, I believe.
There are 32 total "stars" on this team. That doesn't show the talent level in comparison to the following class, though. If we were to examine it only in terms of the "stars" that saw the court, you have to take away Purifoy and Reed, which drops us to 24. That's a better line to examine.
Now let's get to the projected team for 2016-17.
Automatically we're in assumption territory. The UNKNOWN TRANSFER could be someone with one or two years to play. Those with two years to play are few and far between. This team could end up with only a single Junior on it.
Out of the three seniors, the only one I expect any significant contribution from is T.J. Dunans. I would love to think Tahj Shamsid-Deen will stay healthy for the whole season. If he does, Auburn will be much the better for it as Tahj provides a spark to the defensive intensity that Auburn badly lacked in 2015-16.
Due to that, this team will lean heavily on Dunans, the transfer, and its sophomore and freshman classes. If there's one great thing about 2015-16, it's the number of minutes played by Bryce Brown and Horace Spencer. New Williams saw some time, as well. Plus there's Trayvon Reed who reportedly has added about 50 pounds and was showing some real effort and intensity in practices to come on strong in 2016-17.
That's before we even get to the freshman. Mustapha Heron is the highest rated player signed in Auburn history. Jared Harper was the MVP of a prestigious tournament last summer and has received tons of praise at the point guard position. Anfernee McLemore is no slouch, either. Then there's redshirt freshman Danjel Purifoy, who reports said was the most talented player on the team last fall.
In terms of "stars," we're up to 36 on the floor from the previous season's 24. That's without accounting for the unknown transfer, as well. It's plain to see that the team will have a lot more pure talent.
There's also the "addition by subtraction" concept, here. I've read reports and also have some inside information myself that a player and/or players who were the worst on team and locker room cohesion are gone. You could see some of it in how much more as a team the Tigers played at times in 2015-16.
Will it be enough to get the Tigers to the NCAA Tournament? Maybe not in 2016-17, though I think Auburn will make the post-season in some form next year. Now to really get your excitement going...
Again, we have to assume the roster progresses naturally. It may not. Purifoy, Herron, or others could be gone after the 2016-17 season. If it does progress naturally, though, then we're set up with what may be the most talented roster Auburn basketball has ever had.
Added to Purifoy, Spencer, Brown, Williams, Harper, and McLemore are 5* Austin Wiley and 4* Davion Mitchell. Mitchell could well be a composite 5* by the time he signs with Auburn, too. Jamal Johnson is just a shot in the dark and an appropriation of Tuffy11111's original product.
This is a team that could be a true force in the SEC and in the NCAA Tournament. That's especially true if they're playing fast and loose in Bruce Pearl's style. That's something we really haven't seen, yet.
Yes, 2015-16 was a bit of a disappointment. Yes, I was hoping we'd be further along this year than last year. I guarantee you Bruce Pearl and his staff thought the Tigers would be, too. There were just so many things that happened to derail that.
Perhaps Auburn's biggest victory for next season and the recruiting class afterwards is Chuck Person not being hired by UAB. Chuck's recruiting has been huge for Auburn, and losing him to an in-state school would have hurt.
Auburn basketball is heading in the right direction, though. I think the next year or two will really start to get things going. Hopefully, the enthusiasm from fans and students remains high, as that will be a big boost to getting the 2016-17 season off to a great start.
We weren't quite where we wanted to be in 2015-16. That's okay. The future is still very bright and promising. War Eagle!