Man, last night was tough, for a number of reasons aside from the blowout.
Personally, I was traveling back from a New Orleans bachelor party, and my flight landed when it was 9-7 Clemson. By the time I got to my car, it was 32-15 Clemson. I listened to the Westwood One coverage on Sirius XM on the ride home and heard the announcers exploding whenever Clemson would hit one of what sounded like endless fadeaway contested threes.
I wish I could’ve been able to listen to Rod, because I wanted to feel what the rest of us were feeling. I didn’t want the neutral broadcast, which certainly wasn’t neutral (and I don’t really blame them) with the way that Clemson played in the win.
I think we’d seen it coming slowly but surely in the final games of the season. Starting with A&M and falling behind, then falling short, you could see that Auburn was a good team, even a very good team, but not an elite team. We had some issues with size. Then we beat Kentucky and all seemed right. We were the fifth overall seed when the Selection Committee released its top sixteen teams. Then we went to South Carolina, fell behind, lost Anfernee McLemore, and things really changed.
We rode the wave of home emotion to take out Alabama, then couldn’t get it together on the road, allowing a three-point deluge to Florida, and a dunkfest to Arkansas, before getting that necessary last home win over South Carolina to clinch the conference title.
Against Alabama in the SEC Tournament, we saw it. Something was very different with this team, and I don’t know if it can all be chalked up to McLemore’s absence, although that certainly was a huge portion of the struggle.
Maybe we were too hot early in the year, maybe we flew too close to the sun or something. Either way, the shots that fell in droves in January and February didn’t fall at all during March. We just couldn’t make it happen, and it resulted in a second round exit in the Tournament.
Now, let’s be clear. My disappointment here is not with the season as a whole, which was the best season in two decades on the Plains. We won the first regular season SEC Championship since 1999. Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Alabama are the other schools that have done it since then. My disappointment with the way the season ended comes from the raised expectations that we saw once we jumped out to a huge lead in the SEC, beat people by double-digits every time out, dominated Kentucky, beat Tennessee and Arkansas to start the year, and won fourteen straight games in the process.
We got a glimpse of what this team can be. We saw that Bruce Pearl can make it happen, and with a full deck, we’d likely still be playing. We’re going to celebrate this year, raise a banner, and come into next season as one of the favorites to win the league again.
Barring an exodus to the NBA Draft, we’ll return everyone. That includes getting back our backcourt trio of Jared Harper, Bryce Brown, and Mustapha Heron. That includes Horace Spencer and Anfernee McLemore. That includes Desean Murray, and more experienced Malik Dunbar and Davion Mitchell.
That also includes Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy (please, please, please). Wiley’s been cleared for next season, while Purifoy’s status remains unchanged at this time. To get him back would make Auburn the runaway favorite in the SEC next season. With a little depth, and not having to play forwards at center, and guards at forward, we’d be a complete team. We wouldn’t overachieve. We’d just achieve. And those achievements would likely be something that Auburn basketball hasn’t gotten to experience in quite some time.
There will be more written about this team in the near future, because they were unexpected and special. They were an unbelievably fresh breath of air, and it shut a lot of mouths in the process. As a whole, that feels good. Really good. War Eagle.