For a team in rebuilding mode after losing five key players, Bruce Pearl’s Tigers are an interesting bunch off to a good start with a lot of potential to steadily improve throughout the 2019-20 basketball season.
With a 5-0 record and ranked 19th nationally in this week’s AP Top 25 poll, Auburn is definitely a work-in-progress with a roster featuring eight new players trying to replace the five key guys missing from last season’s team. Those players, who are all on pro teams this season, were instrumental in the 2018-19 team’s historic run to the Final Four.
Several of the newcomers have been fun to watch, but one is making a large impact to start the season. Isaac Okoro, who was named SEC Freshman of the Week on Monday, put on an impressive show in his team’s win in front of a record crowd at the Mitchell Center on the campus of South Alabama.
That was definitely one of the most productive games I have seen from an Auburn player on the road at the start of his freshman season. In all five games Okoro has been effective at both ends of the court, which is how he played on a state championship team last season at McEachern High in Powder Springs, Ga.
At 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, the freshman forward has the physical tools and willingness to get after opponents with his defensive play. I was not surprised to see that immediately this season based on preseason practice, however, he has been more productive as a scorer than expected.
The Tigers, who won’t play at home again until a Dec. 5th contest vs. Furman, should get tested on Monday and Tuesday when they play at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y., with a game on Monday vs. the New Mexico Lobos followed by game two against Wisconsin or Richmond on Tuesday.
Pearl believes in a challenging pre-conference schedule to get his guys ready for league play. The two games next week at the Legends Classic should give the coaching staff a good read on what to work on moving forward.
The football Tigers are at home this week for the final non-conference regular season game with Samford coming to town. Auburn should be good enough to put this game out of reach early enough to give backup players much needed game action.
If that happens, it will help keep the front-line guys as fresh as possible for the Iron Bowl matchup a week later, which should help Auburn’s chances of knocking the Tide out of the college playoff picture after missing on a great opportunity to do that to the Georgia Bulldogs.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter