Auburn basketball: Better than 1999? More anticipated than Person-Barkley?

Jared Harper is a big reason for optimism on the Plains this basketball season. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Jared Harper is a big reason for optimism on the Plains this basketball season. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

The Auburn basketball team begins practicing Tuesday in front of what will be the most-anticipated season on the Plains since Chuck Person and Charles Barkley were on campus in the mid-80s.

Bruce Pearl’s team won a share of the SEC regular-season title last season, despite playing the entire season without two starters (Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy) and without its top defensive player (Anfernee McLemore) for the final seven games because of an injury.

Still, that team finished 26-8 overall and 13-5 in the SEC. The Tigers reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002-03 and won a first-round game.

Two starters (leading scorer Mustapha Heron and Desean Murray) transferred as did backup point guard Davion Mitchell. Heron’s departure stings, but Murray was going to see his minutes reduced with the emergence of Chuma Okeke and Mitchell mostly was used to spell Jared Harper and was a solid defender.

The Auburn basketball starting lineup should look like this:

PG Jared Harper (13.2 points, 5.4 assists)
SG Bryce Brown (15.9 points, 38.2 percent from 3-point range)
C Austin Wiley (8.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.3 blocks)*
F Anfernee McLemore (7.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 blocks)
F Chuma Okeke (7.5 points, 5.8 rebounds)

Purifoy is expected to miss the first nine games of the season because of the suspension and return Dec. 15.

Other key contributors

F Danjel Purifoy (11.5 points, 4.7 rebounds)*
G Malik Dunbar (5.4 points, 2.4 rebounds)
C Horace Spencer (4.7 points, 4.9 rebounds)
G Samir Doughty (9.0 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists)**
G J’Von McCormick (18.5 points, 6.4 assists)***

* 2016-17 statistics
** VCU, 2016-17
*** Lee College, 2017-18

The message this offseason for the Auburn basketball team has been #UnfinishedBusiness. That’s perfect, especially after the way last season ended. McLemore’s absence was a huge dent in the rotation and the Tigers just weren’t the same team and suffered a lopsided loss in the SEC Tournament and were blown out by Clemson in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Could this team rival the 1998-99 team that went 29-4, won the SEC and earned a No. 1 seed in the tournament? It’s possible. That team, led by junior college transfer Chris Porter, Doc Robinson, Scott Pohlman and Bryant Smith, blew expectations out of the water.

Next. Why analyst places Auburn in his preseason top 10. dark

The Tigers were coming off back-to-back 16 win seasons, hadn’t put together a winning record in the SEC for 10 consecutive years. But Porter elevated Auburn to a different level and that team played as well together as any Auburn team in recent memory.

This Auburn basketball team is being mentioned as a preseason top-10 team by multiple outlets.

The Tigers begin the season Nov. 6 against South Alabama, but most Auburn fans will be waiting for the Tigers’ trip to the Maui Invitational, where a possible date with a loaded Duke team awaits if both win their first games.