By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. – The Auburn men’s basketball took the nation by surprise this past season, winning 26 games and the SEC regular-season championship. At one point, the Tigers climbed as high as No. 8 in the polls.
There won’t be any taking people by surprise next year. With the potential of all but Davion Mitchell returning from last year’s squad, plus the additions of Austin Wiley, Danjel Purifoy and VCU transfer Samir Doughty, the national writers believe the 2018-19 Auburn team will only get better and might have a chance to compete for more than a conference title.
Here’s a look at some of the various “Way-too-early” Top 25 projections.
CBS Sports: No. 4
“The Tigers return the top eight scorers from a team that shared the SEC regular-season title — and are expected to also bring back Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy. Consequently, I think, Auburn should be the favorite in the SEC and a real threat to make the first Final Four in school history. Mustapha Heron is a big reason why. He averaged 16.4 points and 5.3 rebounds this season.
Ken Pomeroy: No. 4
Here's my computer's top 10 for 2019 assuming everyone in @DraftExpress top 40 leaves: 1) Kansas, 2) Duke, 3) Villanova, 4) Auburn, 5) Kentucky, 6) North Carolina, 7) Nevada, 8) West Virginia, 9) Gonzaga, 10) Virginia, 11) Maryland.
— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) March 24, 2018
ESPN: No. 5
“Auburn athletic director Allen Greene gave Bruce Pearl a vote of confidence last week. It was a significant gesture of support for the polarizing coach who still captured a slice of the SEC title in one of the league's strongest years. Mustapha Heron (16.4 PPG) and others could test the draft waters. But Pearl could lose a player or two and still enter next season with a stacked roster, one that will also feature a healthy Anfernee McLemore.”
USA Today: No. 6
“The Tigers should be an SEC contender again, likely returning the top eight scorers from a roster that had an unexpectedly impressive season — with Bruce Pearl’s group nabbing a No. 4 seed in the Big Dance. What’s more: Several elite players who weren’t available this past season are expected to be eligible. Austin Wiley, a 6-11 sophomore who showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman could be back (if he doesn’t turn pro) and add a big boost. Then factor in Danjel Purifoy and Samir Doughty (a VCU transfer who sat out per NCAA rules) to a group of returners headlined by Mustapha Heron (16.4 ppg) and Bryce Brown (15.9 ppg). Pearl’s biggest issue will be managing all that talent.”
The Athletic: No. 7
“Auburn won the SEC’s regular-season crown this past season and lost no one to graduation. Oh, and on top of that, the Tigers will get three terrific players in that weren’t available to them this season. Austin Wiley is a former top-10 recruit who started 22 games as a freshman – averaging more than 19 points and 10 rebounds per 40 minutes – before missing this past season. Danjel Purifoy also missed games after the 6-7 wing averaged more than 11 points. Samir Doughty scored nine points a game as a freshman at VCU and should add some scoring punch off the bench. Those three, mixed with All-SEC guards Bryce Brown and Mustapha Heron, a good point guard in Jared Harper and a loaded, athletic frontcourt featuring Chuma Okeke, Anfernee McLemore and Horace Spencer, should lead to an absolutely monster season for the Tigers – as long as they continue to play as hard as they this past season.”
Yahoo Sports: No. 10
“Pearl elevated Auburn from the depths of the SEC to a co-regular season championship last season. Now he has a chance to keep the Tigers near the top of the SEC. Auburn could return the core of this past season’s team and add Austin Wiley, Danjel Purifoy and the VCU transfer, Samir Doughty, to the mix. Wiley, however is considering turning pro, as is Mustapha Heron after leading the Tigers in scoring last season. If Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and Heron all come back, Auburn would once again boast one of the SEC’s most formidable backcourts. Wiley would provide the size and interior scoring the Tigers lacked this past season, but even if he goes, a healthy Anfernee McLemore will alleviate a lot of the rim protection and rebounding issues Auburn faced at the end of this past season.”
Sporting News: No. 11
“The Tigers didn’t have a single senior on their roster this season, but they do have a couple players weighing NBA decisions. Mustapha Heron (16.4 points per game) could make the jump, and Austin Wiley will test the NBA waters, too. Danjel Purifoy says he'll be back after sitting out the mandated 30 percent of Auburn's games next season. And with Bryce Brown (15.9), Jared Harper (13.2) and Desean Murray (10.1) expected back, the Tigers will be an SEC contender again.”
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: