With a 13-14 overall record, Auburn's rocky men's basketball season has come to a close earlier than most. There will be no postseason action on account of a self-imposed ban by the program, so the Tigers are ineligible for the SEC Tournament.
The season was marked by several ups and downs. Shortly before the first game, it was announced that star recruit Sharife Cooper was under NCAA investigation and would be ineligible until further notice. The Tigers performed quite well substituting freshman guard Justin Powell in his place, putting together a 6-2 record in non-conference play. Cooper was only cleared about a week after Powell suffered a serious concussion in a loss to Texas A&M.
After a dismal start to SEC play, Cooper's arrival appeared to be Auburn's saving grace. The Tigers improved to 4-5 halfway through conference play and looked to be on the rise heading into the final stretch of the year. A hard but not unexpected loss to No. 2 Baylor dampened some spirits, and three close losses in four games hurt Auburn's chances to stay in an ultimately meaningless SEC race.
Then, as if things could not be worse, Sharife Cooper tweaked his ankle in practice. Auburn did manage to go 2-2 after the fact, though, which lends some optimism going into next season if Cooper does not return for his sophomore season.
Now with an unprecedented basketball season behind it, Auburn looks to the future. The team was dealt a blow on Tuesday when it was announced that Justin Powell would be transferring to a different school, but there is a wealth of experience at the shooting guard position that should soften the impact. It is also unknown where Sharife Cooper stands on declaring for the NBA Draft. Currently, he is ranked as a lottery pick.
Also highly anticipated are the arrivals of Jabari Smith (5th overall-ranked recruit) and Trey Alexander (72nd overall-ranked recruit). Expectations will definitely be high, especially if Cooper decides to return and give Auburn four Top 100 recruits on the roster. Allen Flanigan, Devan Cambridge, and Jaylin Williams will also be juniors who have had a full offseason to train and grow, something they didn't have after their freshman seasons.
Overall, it was not the kind of year that Tiger fans have grown accustomed to. Before this season, Auburn was one of just four major programs to win 25+ games in each of the last three seasons, joining the likes of perennial powerhouses Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky. But fans cannot deny that Bruce Pearl has built a machine, and even if the team does lose a few names besides Powell in the coming weeks, the Auburn basketball program is poised for continued success.