The whiplash end to the 2019-20 college basketball season was, what’s the word… heartbreaking. For Auburn fans as much as any. Not only was the team projected to earn a top-five seed in the 2020 NCAA Tournament, but almost every pivotal player will likely be gone next season.
Five—count’em, five—of Bruce Pearls’ top-six scorers were seniors:
- Samir Doughty: 16.7 PPG
- J’Von McCormick 11.6 PPG
- Austin Wiley: 10.6 PPG
- Danjel Purifoy: 8.5 PPG
- Anfernee McLemore: 6.8 PPG
The only underclassman among the Top Six was stand out freshman Isaac Okoro (12.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG), who is likely a one-and-done NBA lottery pick.
The difference in Auburn’s national championship odds between this year and next year tell the whole story. The 2020 NCAA Tournament odds tracker at SportsBettingDime.com shows that the Tigers were a +2200 bet to win the title on March 10 – second-best in the SEC behind Kentucky – just two days before the season was shut down.
The extremely early 2021 NCAA Tournament odds? They have Kentucky at +1200, Florida at +2500, Tennessee at +5000, and Auburn … nowhere to be found.
So just who will be here next year?
The top returner will be freshman guard Devan Cambridge, who averaged 4.2 points and 2.3 rebounds in 13.2 minutes per game.
Next, it’s sophomore (soon-to-be-junior) guard Jamal Johnson, a Memphis transfer who will undoubtedly be asked to shoulder a bigger load next year. As a freshman at Memphis, he played 26.5 MPG, averaging 6.9 points and 3.3 rebounds.
If not for all the senior leadership on this year’s team – especially in the backcourt – Johnson would have seen more action during his first season of eligibility with his new Tigers.
The only other player on the 2019-20 team who averaged double-digit minutes per game was freshman guard Allen Flanigan. The Little Rock native averaged 3.2 PPG and 2.7 RPG in just over 13 minutes of action per night.
In reality, if next year’s Auburn team DOES make some noise, it’ll be on the strength of the newcomers.
The incoming class for Auburn is relatively strong, and may get stronger. Bruce secured the #19-overall prospect in the country, point guard Sharife Cooper, out of Powder Springs, Georgia.
Joining Cooper will be #76th ranked Justin Powell out of Goshen, Kentucky.
Bruce also has two outstanding offers out to two outstanding prospects:
- Auburn is still in the mix for #9-overall recruit Greg Brown, a power forward out of Austin, Texas. That said, he’s widely expected to land at either Kentucky, Texas, North Carolina, or Memphis.
- More encouragingly, Auburn is in play for ESPN’s #1-overall recruit, Jalen Green, from Fresno, California. It may still be hard to believe that a #1 prospect from the West Coast would land in eastern Alabama, but at least one recruiting expert (247’s Jerry Meyer) has predicted that Green will pick Auburn.
If Auburn does land Green to pair with Cooper in the backcourt, the 2020-21 season will immediately become appointment viewing. And you can expect oddsmakers to start paying attention.
If they don’t, it’s going to be a bit of a rebuilding year. Bruce will likely look to the grad transfer market to fill roster holes, but isn’t likely to find true difference makers on that front.
At least “Green Watch 2020” will give us all something to fixate on during this effective house arrest.