The Undefeated Auburn Tigers Roll in to SEC Play

BIRMINGHAM, AL - DECEMBER 14: Auburn Tigers guard J'Von McCormick (5) and teammates during the game between the Auburn Tigers and the Saint Louis Billikens at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama on December 14, 2019. (Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The calendar has turned to 2020 and conference play is kicking off across the country. The undefeated Auburn Tigers are one of two remaining division one teams who have yet to lose this season. The San Diego State Aztecs are the other team yet to taste defeat. Sitting at 13-0 and ranked number five in the nation, the Tigers are rolling along as SEC play gets underway. Coach Bruce Pearl’s squad took care of business to open the conference slate by winning in Starkville over the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

The Undefeated Auburn Tigers Roll into SEC Play

The Tigers have really raised the profile of their program over the last few seasons. They are continuing that upward trajectory this season despite losing the bulk of last year’s production. Two seasons ago, this team won the SEC regular-season title. They followed that up with a Final Four run last March. Now, this undefeated Auburn team is looking to take that final step. First up, they have to navigate the always tough SEC schedule.

The Replacements

The success over the previous two seasons was largely built on the backs of guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. Each of those guys is gone now, and a new crop of backcourt talent is leading the way for Coach Pearl’s team. Seniors Samir Doughty and J’Von McCormick have both stepped into bigger roles this season and are flourishing so far. Doughty leads Auburn in scoring with just under 17 points per game. The former VCU Ram can hit shots from the outside and maneuver to the rim. He has been one of the more improved players in the country this season. The 6’4” senior is also an excellent perimeter defender and one of the main components to the Tigers’ aggressive and disruptive defensive scheme.

McCormick has stepped right into the point guard role and is running this offense with extreme efficiency. Much like Harper did the past few seasons, he uses his speed and fearlessness when attacking the paint. He is averaging five and a half assists and under two turnovers per game. Doughty has been the teams best player, but McCormick is the engine that pushes this fast-paced attack. This Auburn offense is well balanced with six guys scoring between seven and seventeen points a night. McCormick orchestrates the things from the point.

Fresh Faces

Auburn has three freshmen playing double-digit minutes each night. For the most part, the large freshman class is just helping fill in roles off the bench, but they have a headliner as well. Isaac Okoro was the 36th ranked recruit nationally in the 2019 class, and he has wasted no time in showing people why. His versatile skill set on the offensive end has been on display all season. He has only failed to score in double figures three times in thirteen contests. His three-point shooting still has a ways to go sitting at 21 percent on the season, but inside the arc, he has been as efficient as they come. Okoro has some craftiness to his game in both getting to and finishing around the basket. The 6’6” wing is also contributing on defense, with a steal and a block per game.

Paint Thinner

The Tigers are slightly short on numbers in the post, but they make up for it with the energy and activity from the three reliable options they have. After two years of injuries and ineligibility, big man Austin Wiley is finally able to secure the paint for Auburn. He is averaging close to a double-double and almost two blocks a night. Wiley is the biggest guy on the roster and the one true center this team has. He is a solid scoring threat down low, but makes his biggest impact on the glass and protecting the rim.

Forwards Danjel Purifoy and Anfernee McLemore are this team’s other options in the post. The 6’7” Purifoy is the better offensive player and can stretch the floor with his shooting ability. He hit a few key shots from deep in the second half of their win in Starkville. McLemore is a human Pogo stick. His length and jumping ability allow him to cause havoc on the offensive glass and protecting the rim. The senior is closing in on 200 career blocks. Despite not being the tallest team, this undefeated Auburn squad protects the paint very well on defense. They are 15th nationally in blocks with 83 on the season.

The Grind

While the record is perfect for Coach Pearl’s Tigers, the resume is still a bit lacking. They only have two wins over Power Five opponents, so they still have a lot to prove. Conference play has begun now, so the opportunities to show just how good they are will be plentiful in the tough SEC. Much like the national story, there isn’t a dominant team in this league that everyone else is looking up at. Things are wide open, and Auburn will need to carry the momentum from the non-conference portion of the schedule into SEC play.

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