Bruce Pearl’s basketball team wrapped up a disappointing season last Saturday with one of its better performances of the year in a victory over Mississippi State.
The coach and Auburn fans hope that the struggles during the 2020-21 season will prove be a one-year aberration from the norm. Winning big this season was expected to be a challenge after having to replace all five starters plus the top performer off the bench.
The situation was exacerbated by the season-ending injury to Justin Powell and the late start for another talented freshman guard, Sharife Cooper, whose season also ended early with an injury.
It would have been fun to watch Cooper and Powell play together, but it didn’t happen in a single game.
Powell led the Tigers in rebounding and Cooper was the team’s top scorer and assists leader. Even though he played in only 12 games, Cooper’s impact was noted by SEC coaches, who put him on their all-league freshman team.
The 2019-20 Tigers, who won 25 games and lost just six times, had the ability to get after opponents defensively with six seniors leading the way. Going into this season, how well an inexperienced roster could defend appeared to be a real concern and that proved to be an issue. The team allowed 76.4 points per game, up from the previous season’s average of 70.4.
Combine the defensive issues with too many turnovers and that goes a long way towards explaining Auburn’s 13-14 overall record and 7-11 mark in league play.
Having Powell available at point guard for just 10 games and Cooper missing 15 games led to Pearl having to play Allen Flanigan and Jamal Johnson out of position at the point. That explains why the Tigers averaged 16.3 turnovers per game, which ranks next to last in the SEC.
Flanigan and Johnson deserve credit for giving it their best effort at point guard. Overall, both stepped up in a variety of areas this past season.
Unless somebody passes him in the postseason, Flanigan will have the biggest scoring average jump of any player in the SEC this year, going from 3.2 points per game as a freshman to 14.3 as a sophomore. Johnson’s scoring jumped, too, up to 9.4 from 3.5.
With a lot of work on his point guard skills in the offseason, which is the plan, Johnson may be used to handle a backup role at that spot as a senior in addition to playing the shooting guard position.
From the notebook
• With Terri Williams-Flournoy out after nine seasons as the Auburn women’s basketball coach, this is an opportunity for Athletic Director Allen Greene to make a splash hire for a program that needs major help.
The recruiting hasn’t been good enough to challenge the top teams in the SEC and whoever gets the job needs to be very good with that part of the equation.
• The softball Tigers start SEC play this week with a three-game home series Friday-Sunday vs. Alabama.
This should be a major test for Auburn’s freshman pitchers, Maddie Penta and Shelby Lowe, because the Tide will be the best team they have faced this season.
Penta has won two SEC Freshman of the Week awards and Lowe is the most recent winner of the award.
• Construction is beginning on AU’s football performance center buildings.
Rabren General Contractors of Auburn won the bid on that part of the project at $64.6 million for the new headquarters for the Tigers that will include a football operations building that will be 138,100 square feet, an indoor practice facility of 95,300 square feet and two outdoor practice fields.
The total budget of the project, including site preparation, relocating the campus tennis courts, furnishings, architecture fees and site prep is expected to top more than $91 million.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter.