Having to rebuild a team is not a new challenge for Auburn men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl, but this season could prove to be his biggest challenge yet.
The Tigers will have a new point guard for the third year in a row, along with several other new starters. Pearl believes that the team will get better as the season goes along.
“I think (the transfers) really gelled immediately off the floor, which is great,” Pearl said. “I don’t know how well we’re gelling on the floor yet, we just don’t have enough body of work.
“And I sort of say that as a challenge. It has nothing to do with the transfers. We’ve just got those four transfers plus Jabari (Smith), so five guys that are in our top-nine players right now along with four returning players; we have no history together.”
Pearl and the Tigers will have an opportunity to learn how they play when Auburn hosts Southern Indiana, which won a Division II National Championship with Pearl at the helm in 1995. The Screaming Eagles went 12-5 last year before losing in the second round of the Division II Midwest Regional. The exhibition will be the second time that Pearl’s team will play together, as the Tigers traveled to Birmingham to take on UAB in a private scrimmage last week.
“The thing about playing USI on Friday is it’ll get us ready for Morehead on Tuesday,” Pearl said.
One exhibition game won’t get out all the wrinkles of a new team, but it will be a start for Auburn. The Tigers will have three non-conference games before they head to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, which features Loyola Chicago, Michigan State, Baylor and more.
“Three games we play before we go down to the Battle 4 Atlantis are all against really good teams,” Pearl said.
Following Friday’s exhibition, the Tigers will open the season against a Morehead State team that went 23-8 last year and made an appearance in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Pearl made the decision to schedule tough non-conference teams as a chance to give his players a chance to play against good teams early in the season to learn each other’s style of play.
“Morehead State won their league. They got some guys that transferred in that were in championship programs,” Pearl said. “The stuff they run is really hard to guard.
“They think they can come in here and beat us, and with good reason. I understand that, that’s what our guys are gonna get. It may not mean much to our fans, but beating Morehead State, who was in the NCAA tournament a year ago, that’s gonna be a good win for us.”
Following a year with a self-imposed postseason ban, the Tigers will aim to make their return to the NCAA Tournament after reaching the Final Four back in 2019. This season should prove to be an exciting one for Auburn, and Pearl is looking forward to seeing his new team gel together.
“It’s going to take these early games for us to figure out a way for us to gel on the court,” Pearl said. “There’ll be some bumps, I would imagine, because of that.”