AUBURN, Ala. — What started out as one of the most disappointing weeks of the season improved quickly, ending with arguably one of the best days in Auburn basketball history.
Boston College beat Auburn in the Tigers’ first-ever appearance in Madison Square Garden on Monday night. Circumstances didn’t improve when the team returned to the Plains, either. On Wednesday, head coach Bruce Pearl announced the suspension of starters Horace Spencer and Bryce Brown following the players’ arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession.
Down their biggest body and best defender, the Tigers responded in a big way. Auburn tied an SEC record for 3-pointers made (21) in their 117-72 win at Auburn Arena on Thursday night. Auburn’s 21 makes from downtown tied the record previously set by Kentucky in 1990 and by Arkansas in 1997.
True freshman Danjel Purifoy scored 27 points for the second consecutive game and couldn’t stop smiling during the postgame press conference. He would have even more reason to smile on Friday.
Five-star Austin Wiley, one of the most prized recruits in program history, enrolled and became immediately eligible to play. While the 6-foot-11, 255-pound center will have to adjust quickly mid-season, he brings size and strength Bruce Pearl’s team desperately needs.
With less than two weeks until SEC play, Auburn is getting exactly what it needs: nonstop basketball against competitive opponents.
It all starts Sunday afternoon. Here’s a look at the week ahead.
Sunday: vs. Mercer
Where: Auburn Arena, Auburn, Ala.
Time/TV: 1 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Bears’ record: 5-5
This is potentially a revenge game for Auburn after the Bears defeated the Tigers 78-71 last season. Mercer is not the 19-win team it was in 2015-16, however.
So far this season, the Bears have played a challenging nonconference schedule. They’ve faced Florida, Akron, Davidson, George Mason and most recently, Clemson. Unfortunately for Bob Hoffman’s squad, none of those games resulted in wins.
Mercer has yet to beat an opponent ranked in the top 100 in the nation in adjusted efficiency margin. The best victory so far was perhaps a 70-66 neutral site win against East Carolina, ranked No. 149 in that metric. The trip to Auburn presents another issue — this will be Mercer’s first game in eight days.
Bears to watch
Mercer is led by Ria’n Holland, who’s dropped in 17.7 points and snatched 3.1 rebounds per game in nine games thus far. Holland seems to get up for big games, too. Some of his highest numbers have come in games against the best teams the Bears have faced.
Demetre Rivers will be a unique matchup for Auburn’s undersized squad. The 6-foot-8, 180-pound guard is Mercer’s second-biggest scoring threat (12.8 ppg).
The Bears’ big men will be an ideal matchup for Auburn. As true freshman Anfernee McLemore plays more minutes and Wiley debuts, Desmond Ringer (6-foot-9, 255 pounds) and Stephon Jelks (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) will give the Tigers a chance to play against big bodies. They aren’t overwhelming down low, though. Both drop in around 6 points and pull down 5 rebounds per game.
Wednesday: vs. Oklahoma
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Conn.
Time/TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
Sooners’ record: 6-3
Oklahoma had an unforgettable ride to the 2016 Final Four with Wooden Award winner Buddy Hield running the show. The Sooners are still good, but they aren’t that good.
The Sooners have battled, but have been inconsistent overall so far this year. While they’ve earned wins over Tulane and Clemson, they lost an overtime game to Northern Iowa and let a close one slip away against Wichita State.
One game, a 20-point loss to No. 17 Wisconsin, stands out on the Sooners’ schedule. Oklahoma led by 3 at halftime, but went cold from 3-point land (1-for-6) in the second half. Meanwhile, Wisconsin went 8-for-14 from distance in the final 20 minutes.
Sooners to watch
One thing Oklahoma undoubtedly has is depth. Led by Jordan Woodard, the Sooners have four players averaging double figures in points and nine are averaging at least 12 minutes of playing time.
Woodard, one of two returning starters, will play the most minutes. The 6-foot, 187-pound guard has shot the ball well this season and rebounds (5.3 per game). He’ll challenge Auburn’s young guards, who’ve had at times difficulty defensively.
Christian James (12.3 ppg), Rashard Odomes (10.0 ppg) and Khadeem Lattin (10.0 ppg) are the supporting trio.
Lattin, a 6-foot-9 forward, is another valuable matchup for McLemore and Wiley. Wednesday’s game will be a great opportunity for Auburn’s young posts to go against a tough defender (through nine games so far, Lattin has recorded 17 steals and swatted 21 shots.
Friday: at Connecticut
Where: XL Center, Hartford, Conn.
Time/TV: 2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
UConn started the year ranked and has steadily and continually regressed. It’s somewhat tough to judge this UConn team based on games they have played thus far. Most notably, the Huskies have beaten Syracuse in New York City, but the 2-point margin of victory wasn’t striking.
In fact, a first look at Connecticut’s schedule leads one to believe the Huskies’ losses may be a better indication of how capable this Kevin Ollie team is. UConn lost to Oklahoma State, Oregon and Ohio State by a total of 22 points, giving the impression the squad is better than their record indicates.
Still, the Huskies dropped a few puzzling games early in the season, including losses to Wagner and Northeastern.
Huskies to watch
UConn is yet another team that has significant contributions from starters and strong bench play, too. Sophomores Jalen Adams will lead the way, but seven or so Huskies likely will see time in the game.
Jalen Adams (17.9 ppg) may not even know what a sophomore slump is. He’s been UConn’s best player by far. In his time at Connecticut, Adams has helped the Huskies win games and played well in big-time environments (Adams had 9 points and 3 assists in a first-round NCAA tournament win over Colorado last season.
Adams took on an even bigger role when Terry Larrier (13.5 ppg through four games), arguably the team’s best player, went down with a season-ending knee injury in November. There’s no doubt Connecticut’s supporting cast will keep trying to play a critical role with the loss of one of their most experienced and talented guards.