Bruce Pearl, ever the public speaker, had enough talk about rebounding Wednesday during his appearance on SEC Now.
As his players preluded earlier in the show, if Auburn has a glaring deficiency this basketball season, it’s rebounding. The Tigers finished near the bottom in the conference last year, and it’s personnel doesn’t do them any favors heading into the 2016-17 season.
But Pearl feels like there are plenty of other positives to highlight.
“Can we talk about anything else other than rebounding? We stink at rebounding. We’re good at a lot of other things. Way to focus on the negatives,” Pearl joked.
For starters, there is recruiting, where Auburn ranks No. 1 in the country in 2017 and has stellar starts to the 2018 and 2019 classes, as well.
But it’s not just about the future — Pearl likes the now. The foundation set when he arrived at Auburn is beginning to show itself on the court and in the community.
“Leaders, teachers, coaches have to provide a vision of where we’d like to go. The first thing you do is start selling Auburn. If folks want to start focusing on their books and their basketball, their bodies and their Bible, then Auburn is a great place to go. It is,” Pearl said. “If that fits, then come on. Let’s go to work. They see the hope … Great players want to play with other great players.”
How can Auburn exceed the SEC media’s expectations as the 11th-best team in the SEC? How can the Tigers avoid their alleged rebounding deficiency? Here are a few key parts Pearl touched on Wednesday.
The redshirt freshman sat out his first year on campus because of issues regarding his ACT scores. The situation has been solved, and Purifoy still has four years of eligibility remaining.
Now that he’s available to play, Purifoy is going to be a major asset for Auburn. In some regards, he’s the most important piece to rectifying the rebounding concerns. Purifoy is a natural small forward, at 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, but he’ll be thrust into a stretch four role in Auburn’s height-desperate lineup.
Pearl expects Purifoy to take full advantage of potential mismatches, thanks to his innate offensive skill set.
“He’s a terrific offensive player. He’s an undersized 4. It’s the best position on the floor we have. He can shoot, he can pass, he can take it off the bounce,” Pearl said, “he’s going to be a matchup nightmare.”
Purifoy will also be held accountable for marking taller, more physical defenders than he may normally be accustomed. Auburn doesn’t even have many post presence options available to replicate opposing big men.
But the Tigers will look for Purifoy to add a much-needed element that Pearl would’ve loved to have last season.
“He’s also going to have to be playing inside people are going to pound on him,” Pearl said. “He’s got to rebound his position. He’s a more natural small forward, but he’s really, really good.”
Full court, fast pace
Lacking in size, Auburn plans to take advantage of what it is good at — up-temo, in-your-grill basketball.
The Tigers have the ball handlers, decision makers and quick-moving bigs to play a full-speed, full-court style of basketball. Pearl will utilize this year’s team ability to go 10 deep, something that appeared through the early stages last year before injuries siphoned some of that depth.
“If you remember, our five couldn’t beat anybody’s five. But our 10 could. So we’re going to try to wear people down. Can we make games at the end of the games? Can we make games at the end of the bench? I’m not calling timeout,” Pearl said. “We’re going to try to wear your ass out.”
“That’s our best chance to win basketball games.”
Pearl expressed some reservations with the new-age rules and how they can affect a full-court style, however.
With hand-checking and trapping restrictions, Pearl said his team has to find a way to make the most of this high-pace skill set without letting opponents slow them down with regular trips to the free-throw line.
“Now the question is: Can we, with the rule changes, effectively extend defensively without fouling? Because the freedom of movement and trapping, and some of the things we’ve probably done in the past, they’re going to be called,” Pearl said. “But I’m small. I’m quick. I’m deep. The farther we get away from the basket offensively and defensively, the better off we are.”