Bruce Pearl has things cooking again at Auburn University. Only a few seasons ago, things were not so hot after a backyard barbecue involving then potential recruit Aaron Craft landed him in some hot water, while he was coaching Tennessee. Joking aside, Pearl’s recruiting success has Auburn basketball staring down a bright future.
Pearl had a stellar career up to that point. He won a Division II National Championship with the Southern Indiana Eagles, took Milwaukee to the NCAA Tournament in three of four seasons and even got Tennessee all the way to the top of the AP poll for a period. In the 2008 NCAA Tournament Pearl and NCAA All-American Chris Lofton achieved a two seed. Unfortunately for them this turned out to be one of the most power packed tournaments of all time that saw all four number one seeds reach the Final Four for the first time in history. Due to the aforementioned violations Tennessee let go of Bruce Pearl. The NCAA placed a three year show-cause order on him. Regardless, Pearl departed from Tennessee with a 145-61 record and with a record like that his story was nowhere near over.
During the three seasons that Pearl was unable to coach per the NCAA, Auburn compiled a combined 38-55 record. So they were in need of a change when Pearl became available again. In addition to the current state, Auburn’s program had been in a drought of success for quite a while. During the period that Pearl was at Tennessee, a conference opponent, Auburn totaled two winning seasons and zero tournament appearances.
While Pearl’s 26-40 record may not spell out a move in the right direction, the Tigers are actually in a great spot compared to before. Pearl took the reigns after Tony Barbee in the 2014-15 season. His strength in recruiting shined immediately. Due to the three year NCAA show-cause penalty Pearl was unable to participate in the July recruiting period. He got right to work at the expiration on August 23rd, 2014.
Pearl quickly signed four star Trayvon Reed just days after to finish out the 2014 class. The 2015 class, the first of his own, included two four star freshman, Junior College transfer T.J. Duanas and two three stars. Auburn possessed 15th ranked class by rivals.com. This brings us to what is going on now and the trend that Pearl has the school on.
The 2016 class that will be taking the floor this year is 25th in the nation. It does, however, include the first five star in Pearl’s tenure at Auburn: Mustapha Heron. Additionally the NCAA had ruled Danjiel Purifoy ineligible the last year. Auburn used Purifoy’s redshirt so that he would enter this season with four year’s of eligibility.
They will need him too. Last year’s two leading scorers departed from the team. Tyler Harris graduated, Kareem Canty left early for the NBA draft and Trayvon Reed left the team. That leaves Duanas as the leading returning scorer. It does help that Bryce Brown outplayed his three star status by averaging 10.1 PPG. Brown could use some work on the defensive side of the ball, though. In spite of his positive influence on the offense, he is posting a -3.0 Defensive Box Plus Minus and 0.2 Defensive Win Shares. Pearl also reeled in two immediately eligible graduate transfers so there is a lot of player movement.
What is most promising is the collection of players yet to start their senior season in high school. By some miracle Bruce Pearl has compiled the top rank in the class of 2017. If things continue this way it would be the first time since 2008 that a school not named Duke or Kentucky has the top spot.
Do not let their record deceive you. Auburn basketball is trending upwards at an amazing pace. Bruce Pearl is getting back to his old self. That is, minus the violations, hopefully. All of this talent has the potential to spark a deep tournament run. Under his instruction the school is a lock for next year’s tournament and possibly could make a run in 2016-17.