I am always going to wonder what kind of run this year’s senior-led Auburn basketball team could have made in the SEC and NCAA tournaments if the season had not ended prematurely because of the national fears about coronavirus.
My guess is that the Tigers would have done very well in Nashville where they didn’t get a chance to defend their league tournament championship. I also believe the Tigers would have entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed with the potential to win multiple games in this event, just like last season’s team did while advancing to the Final Four.
It is a big disappointment to one of the hardest working Auburn teams I remember covering in any sport that the season ended the way it did, especially for seniors Samir Doughty, J’Von McCormick, Anfernee McLemore, Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley.
Doughty, who earned first team all-league honors from the coaches, was good as a junior. With a chance to take on a bigger role as a senior, he showed that he was one of the best all-around performers in the SEC.
J’Von McCormick finished among the league leaders in assists and ended up averaging 11.7 points per game, third on the team behind Doughty and Isaac Okoro. He earned respect around the league for his athletic ability and being a fierce competitor.
McLemore, a major contributor on teams that won a school record 99 times over a period of four seasons, will leave Auburn with two degrees and major respect for the type of person he is as well as making a nice comeback from one of the worst injuries seen at an Auburn basketball game that ended his sophomore season and prevented the 2017-18 SEC regular season champion Tigers from reaching their postseason potential.
Purifoy, who hung tough through trials and tribulations that would have likely prompted many other players to transfer, regained his starting role as a senior and is scheduled to graduate this summer. A life-long Auburn fan, Purifoy is the type of player who could have given the Tigers a chance to do well in postseason play.
Wiley’s final season with the Tigers was his best and worthy of All-SEC status, although he did not receive that recognition to the disappointment of his head coach. Wiley’s loyalty to Auburn by choosing his parents’ alma mater as a bluechip prospect signaled to other top recruits that Bruce Pearl’s program is worthy of consideration.
Without a doubt Pearl really liked this team’s players, especially the seniors, and their willingness to work together for a common goal. There is also no question that the head coach is disappointed that he couldn’t lead this group into postseason play for himself, the assistant coaches and rest of the staff as well as the fans, but I think what hurts most for Pearl is his seniors didn’t get to finish what they started.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter