Bruce Pearl

Bruce Pearl's Auburn team leads the Southeastern Conference. (Photo/Thomas Graning)

Thomas Graning

Auburn hasn’t won the Southeastern Conference regular-season basketball championship since 1999, but through nine games of the 18-game schedule, the Tigers sit in first place.

Wednesday’s win over Ole Miss leaves the Tigers at 20-2, including 8-1 in the league.

This result seems absolutely amazing after Auburn lost stars Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy before the season. The NCAA has declared Wiley ineligible for the year, while Purifoy is ineligible indefinitely. Both are suspected to be out because of the Chuck Person case, in which the former Tigers assistant coach is accused of accepting moey to direct players to agents.

Both joined Auburn as four-star recruits, and typically the Tigers couldn’t afford to lose two guys like that.

But if you examine who head coach Bruce Pearl has brought into the program in the past three years, he already had built a pretty good team even without those two.

In 2015, he brought in four-star Horace Spencer and three-star Bryce Brown, according to 247sports.com ratings. In 2016, five-star Mustapha Heron joined the squad along with four-star Jared Harper and three-star Anfernee McLemore. In 2017, two four stars (Chuma Okeke and Davion Mitchell) came to Auburn along with three-star Malik Dunbar, a junior college transfer.

Heron, Harper, McLemore and Brown are starting along with Desean Murray, a transfer from Presbyterian where he was an all-Big South first-team selection.

A trio of four-star players (Spencer, Okeke and Mitchell) are three of the first guys off the bench. There was a time when any Auburn coach couldn’t afford to keep a four-star player as a reserve, but Pearl has developed a deep enough talent base that he can do it.

Nobody ever has doubted Pearl’s ability to coach — it’s that he now has some good players to put on the floor.

 

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.