Last night, Virginia won the national championship over Texas Tech in overtime. It’s still hard to think about what could have been for Auburn and Bruce Pearl had an eyelash gone the other way in the closing seconds on Saturday night, or if Chuma Okeke hadn’t been injured against North Carolina. We very well could be pontificating on what a basketball national championship means for Auburn this very morning. Alas.
Instead, we still get to look at what the Tigers did this year. In short, they completed the greatest season in Auburn basketball history.
- 30 wins
- SEC Tournament Championship (2nd in school history)
- Final Four berth (1st in school history)
- 1st win over a top-five team since 1995 (Tennessee on March 9th, then followed up by the blowout win over North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen)
- Most three-pointers in school and SEC history (454)
- Bryce Brown moved into 2nd place in SEC history for three-pointers
- First season ever where Auburn beat Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee twice
It’s no small list of accomplishments, and there’s plenty of reason to celebrate. We’re going to get to see multiple banners inside Auburn Arena. We’ll get a SEC Tournament Champion banner, we’ll get a Final Four banner, and maybe even a banner for Bryce Brown’s #2 jersey. He deserves it. There’s no shame in what happened to the Tigers, and judging by what they did this year after the way 2018 finished, this team is here to stay. Unfinished business was the name of the game after last season, and they nearly took care of all business on the way to a national title.
With the way that Auburn ran through the bluest of blue bloods in this tournament, it garnered a bit of attention, and the roster that the Tigers could have next year intrigues people as they look ahead (way too early) to the 2019-2020 season. Check out where some people have Auburn as we turn the page to next year.
The way-too-early college basketball top 10:— SB Nation (@SBNation) April 9, 2019
2. Michigan State
9. Texas Tech
Leading scorer Bryce Brown is gone, but there’s a chance Auburn’s top five other scorers could return. The decisions of Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke will loom large here. If both return, Bruce Pearl should have a team capable of making its second Final Four in as many years. The addition of top 50 freshman Isaac Okoro will give Pearl yet another tool to work with.
Our own SBNation.com has Auburn at #7 to start next season, thanks to the possible return of the top five scorers on the team aside from Bryce Brown.
Sporting News has Auburn at #10 — the third-highest SEC team behind Kentucky and Tennessee. However, others aren’t quite as bullish on the Tigers.
Bruce Pearl fell 0.6 seconds short of the title game, but there were few teams in the country playing as well as the Tigers over the final month of the season. How will that carry into next season? Bryce Brown and Horace Spencer are definitely gone, and Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke could test the NBA draft waters. Because Pearl went 10-deep nearly every game, though, he brings back several rotation players. He also adds four four-star prospects, led by ESPN 100 forward Isaac Okoro. Should Harper come back, this ranking is too low.
Jeff Borzello does caveat this #22 ranking with the disclaimer about Jared Harper returning, but if he and Chuma Okeke both come back to play again, Auburn is a definite top ten squad.
And of course, some others like to go even further. Let’s not just predict where they’ll all start out, but where they’ll all finish on Selection Sunday. Joe Lunardi has a bracket for the 2020 NCAA Tournament, because of course he does.
NCAAM Bracketology - ESPN. Post-game reading... https://t.co/uL3N0o4hLF— Joe Lunardi (@ESPNLunardi) April 9, 2019
Auburn would be the #2 seed in the West Region (Duke as the #1). Joining the Tigers would be fellow SEC teams Florida (#8 seed), Mississippi State (#8 seed), Tennessee (#6 seed), Ole Miss (#8 seed), and Kentucky (#2 seed).
It’s pretty clear that things will heavily depend on what happens with the NBA Draft process. Here’s what we know...
Bryce Brown, Horace Spencer, Malik Dunbar, and Cole Blackstock (combined 27.1 ppg) all graduate, so there’s no chance they return.
Jared Harper, Chuma Okeke, Austin Wiley, and Anfernee McLemore have all been listed on draft projections or have been rumored to be interested in testing the waters. Harper definitely put in for an evaluation last offseason before deciding to return to school, and I imagine all of these guys will likely do the same thing this year.
Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, and Danjel Purifoy will all be back for the 2019-2020 seasons. They’ll be joined by newcomer Jamal Johnson (transfer from Memphis), and signees Isaac Okoro (6’5, 200), Jaylin Williams (6’8, 220), Allen Flanigan (6’5, 200), Tyrell Jones (6’1, 170), and Babatunde “Stretch” Akingbola (6’8, 220). There’s a possibility if Harper leaves, that Auburn is able to secure the commitment and reclassification of Sharife Cooper to take his spot at the point.
That’s just a rough roster look, and there’s so much time between now and the moment when Harper, Okeke, Wiley, and McLemore need to declare that it’s almost pointless to look ahead. Either way, Auburn’s going to be stocked with talent. We just need to see if they’ll be stocked with the experience necessary to get back to the heights we saw this year.