When Bruce Pearl looked at which players he was losing after the 2019-20 season, he knew that this year would have its challenges, to put it lightly. Even before the school self-imposed a postseason ban, the Tigers were huge longshots in the NCAA Tournament odds.
His six leading scorers gone, Bruce had to thrust five new players into starting roles. None of them averaged more than 14 minutes last year. None averaged more than 4.2 points. So, yeah, the school’s postseason ban was, by all accounts, well timed.
While Tiger fans won’t have a postseason tournament — or even an SEC tournament — to brighten their March, the final six games of the season promise fireworks.
The young squad was 0-4 in conference play before Top-20 recruit Sharife Cooper was declared eligible. With Cooper in the lineup, Auburn is 5-5 with quality wins over Kentucky and Missouri. The 6’1 guard is averaging 20.2 points, 8.7 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game. He has completely altered how defenses have to approach the Tigers.
Which, of course, means that Cooper’s name is now rocketing up NBA draft boards, with the final three weeks of the season offering ample opportunity to boost his stock. Auburn’s final four games are all against teams rated in the top-30, nationally, by the influential KenPom rankings. A sure-fire one-and-done, the biggest game of Cooper’s brief collegiate career will come against arch-rival Alabama on Tuesday, March 2nd.
The Tide are enjoying their best season in decades, currently sitting 11th in both the AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll. Second-year head coach Nate Oates has his team playing stifling defense. In fact, in terms of efficiency, Alabama’s D is rated the best in the entire country. Cooper’s first game actually came at home against the Tide back in early December. He impressed with 26 points and 9 dimes. Since then, he’s played one other top-ten defense — Baylor (#3) — and he looked off. He scored 15 points and shot 35.3% from the field. His field-goal percentage in his other nine games is right around 40%.
If Cooper puts in more so-so performances against top-tier defenses, scouts may question how his game will translate to the pros. If he torches all comers, get ready to hear his name in the top ten on draft night.
P.S. Buy this hoodie.