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May 27, 2017
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  Auburn Basketbal Review

Itís a question that if youíve heard once youíve heard a million times. Would you consider the Auburn menís basketball 2016-17 season a success? The answers vary, and thatíll likely continue until at least next November when a new season begins.

Based on head coach Bruce Pearlís goal of making any postseason tournament, the answer is the season was unsuccessful. And yet, the excitement that filled Auburn Arena even as late as the midway point of the conference schedule simply didnít exist for some time prior to Pearlís tenure.

Thatís why itís a difficult question to answer.

The Tigers had a remarkable year in comparisons to the past, and it truly looks like the program is moving forward. Auburnís 18 games won is the most its had in a season since 2008-09, which was also the last time the Tigers had a winning overall record and made a postseason tournament. Pearlís team scored an average of 80.4 points this season, which ranked second in the SEC and is the most in program history since 1998-99. And, not to be forgotten, Auburn swept Alabama. Itís the first time thatís happened since 2008-09.

Auburn accomplished all these things starting four freshmen. Mustapha Heron, Danjel Purifoy, Jared Harper and Austin Wiley were a sight on the court. The youngsters provided extra excitement and added optimism for the future. Heron led the team averaging 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He also shot 42 percent beyond the arc. Purifoy and Harper averaged 11.5 and 11.4 points per game, respectively. And Wiley, who started for the Tigers after an early enrollment in January, averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game as a 17-year- old.

The Tigers did have more production than just those four, though. Senior T.J. Dunans finished his career as a huge contributor, averaging 8.2 points per game. Dunans switched in and out with Bryce Brown for the fifth starting spot. Brownís hot 3-point shooting averaged to a 40 percentage for the season. Freshman Afernee McLemore was also a big contributor. The freshman forward made a team-high 68 percent field goals, averaging 5.4 points per game. He also had a team-best 37 blocked shots.

This Auburn team was at times a lot of fun to watch. From scoring 117 points against Coastal Carolina to beating UAB and UConn in road games to at one point having a 16-8 overall record, the Tigers provided a fun winter for fans.

However, with the highs came the lows. Though there were fun times, this Auburn team also played poorly enough at times it was hard to watch.

Inconsistent play hindered what appeared to be a season with an NCAA invite. When Auburn got to 16-8, it lost the next three games and six of the final eight. This run included blowing numerous halftime leads, including a 20-point difference against Ole Miss on the road. Then, to make matters worse, even an NIT bid was out of the question when the Tigers lost to last-place Missouri in the first round of the SEC Tournament.

So was the 2016-17 season a success?

It really depends on perception. Another best since 2008-09 was the Tigersí 7-11 record in conference play. At the same time, that placed Auburn 11th in the conference. The 2016-17 season provided another appropriate time to announce the team is a year away. However, the phrase has become so common it seems like Auburn has been ďa year awayĒ for five or so years.

In Pearlís three years, Auburn has improved from a 15-20 (4-14 SEC) in 2014-15, 11-20 (5-13) the following year and 18-14 (7-11) this year. Improvements are being made. But at what point are the improvements enough to consider the season a success? After Pearl made the NCAA Tournament, include two Sweet 16s and the Elite Eight once at Tennessee, itís hard to say anything short of a postseason appearance is good enough.

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