AUBURN, Ala. (WEGL)- Coming off a SEC title and an appearance in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003, the Auburn Tigers are looking to live up to their lofty new expectations for the 2018-2019 season.
A loss to Clemson in the second round of the tournament ended the Tigers magical season, but there is plenty of optimism to be had on the plains after finishing 26-8.
Head coach Bruce Pearl and the Tigers return six players returning from their tournament team, minus leading scorer Mustapha Heron (16.4 ppg, transferred to St. Johns) and Desean Murray (10.1 ppg, transferred to Western Kentucky).
The All-SEC backcourt of point guard Jared Harper (13.2 ppg, 5.4 apg) and shooting guard Bryce Brown (15.9 ppg, 38% from 3-point distance) will look to spark the Tigers offense, and they should receive a boost from returning players such as forward Danjel Purifoy (11.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg in 2016-2017) and center Austin Wiley (8.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg in 2016-2017), both who sat out last year. SEC All-Defensive Team forward Anfernee McLemore (2.7 blocks per game), coming off an ACL tear, will give the Tigers a shot blocking presence down low in the post.
Auburn also will add some new faces to their roster, with junior college transfer guard J’Von McCormick (18.5 ppg, 6.4 apg at Lee College) looking to make an impact immediately. After redshirting last year, guard Samir Doughty (9.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg at VCU in 2016-2017) adds some more depth and versatility to the Tigers backcourt after sitting out last year due to transfer rules.
This year several media outlets, such as ESPN and Sporting News, are projecting the Tigers as a top 10-15 team in the country, a far cry from last year when they were picked to finish near the bottom of the SEC.
Auburn’s 2018-2019 schedule starts off with some notable out of conference opponents such as Washington, Dayton and North Carolina State.
A historic moment takes place early in the season as Auburn heads to Maui, Hawaii to face off against Xavier in the Maui Invitational. This is the Tigers’ first appearance in the bracket style tournament, and the field includes powerhouse teams such as Arizona, Duke and Gonzaga.
The Tigers begin facing SEC competition in the 2019 calendar year, traveling to Oxford to face off against the Ole Miss Rebels. Georgia comes into town for the first SEC home game for Auburn, and after a trip to visit Texas A&M, Kentucky comes to Auburn Arena in what should be a highly contested game.
The longest SEC home stretch for Auburn occurs in late January-early February, when they face Missouri, Alabama and Florida. Regular season play for the Tigers concludes in March with a home game against Tennessee.
This 2018-2019 Auburn Tigers basketball team knows that they are among the hunted in the SEC, and they will look to continue to prove doubters that last year was not a fluke.