AUBURN, Ala. -- The fourth year of the Bruce Pearl era began Friday as Auburn basketball opened practice for the 2017-18 season at Auburn Arena working out for just over two hours.
"It's time to start the basketball season, and that's going to be our focus," said Pearl. "I feel like we've built a strong foundation. I feel like we've made progress in our program becoming more competitive. And as we've talked about all summer long, I feel like this team and this roster, because of its experience, and its depth and its strength physically, is in position to make a run to the NCAA Tournament."
Auburn returns 72.8 percent of its scoring and 65.8 percent of its rebounding from 2016-17 when the Tigers won 18 games, the most wins since 2008-09. It is the highest percentage of scoring and rebounding the Tigers have returned in 10 years.
"I feel like this team has a chance to compete for the (NCAA) Tournament," said Pearl. "I like the way we've prepared, I like the chemistry, I like the way they are respecting one another, I like the way they are working in the classroom, and the way they are working in the weight room. I think you're going to see a team that looks a little further ahead than where we would have been had we not returned 70 percent or so of our scoring or 65 percent of our rebounding.
"That's by far the most I've returned since I've been the coach here. Every year it's been a rebuild by virtue of the status of the roster, and this is the first time where we have a lot of guys back, so I think we'll look better than what we would have looked on Sept. 29 any other year."
The Tigers, who are ranked 24th in ESPN's initial BPI computer ratings, welcome back their four leading scorers from last season: Freshman All-SEC Mustapha Heron (15.2), Danjel Purifoy (11.5), Jared Harper (11.4) and Austin Wiley (8.8), as Auburn was the only team in the country to have freshmen as its top four scorers last season.
Auburn broke the school single-season 3-pointers made record with 289, a mark that stood for 21 years, while the Tigers ranked second in the SEC and 32nd nationally averaging 80.4 points per game. The Tigers return players who accounted for 217 of those 3-pointers last season.
"I feel really confident in our players," said Pearl. "There are certain ways you have a barometer on that. We're healthy. We go into the season completely healthy. We are physically much stronger. Our team GPA has never been higher. These guys have worked really hard. There has been a lot of discipline. So, I do feel as confident going into this season as any season I've had."
Auburn opens the regular season vs. MEAC runner-up Norfolk State, which has played in five consecutive postseason tournaments, on Nov. 10 in Auburn Arena.