Has Auburn Basketball Improved Under Bruce Pearl?

pearlAuburn, Ala. – Following Auburn’s first-round SEC Tournament defeat to Missouri, Auburn’s postseason hopes appear to be dashed. With Auburn’s postseason drought on the verge of being extended to eight years, Tiger fans are wondering if Auburn Basketball has improved under Bruce Pearl.

It is no secret that Tony Barbee left the Auburn program in a bad place, but how far has Auburn come since his departure? When just comparing the records of Barbee and Pearl, Auburn has taken small steps in the right direction.

Both head coaches posted a win percentage lower than 50 percent. Barbee finished his time at Auburn with a 49-75 record and a .40 win percentage, while Pearl has accumulated a 44-54 record and a .45 win percentage.

Furthermore, Pearl has led Auburn to a winning season, their first since 2008-09, something Barbee failed to do in his time at Auburn. The Tigers seem to be on track to do even better next season.

In his first season on the plains, Pearl recorded a 15-20 record in 2014-15 and followed it up with an 11-20 season in 2015-16. Although there was a drop in overall wins, Auburn did win one more conference game in 2015-16 than the year before, including a victory over the Kentucky Wildcats.

Then there was this season. Auburn posted an 18-14 record with a 7-11 record in conference play. Considering that this is Auburn’s first winning season in seven years, it sounds like Auburn is developing. Right?

The metric statistics suggest that this year’s Auburn squad is better than the two before it. This season, the Tigers posted their highest points per possession under Pearl with a 1.035. That is slightly above average for college basketball teams.

Auburn also posted their best opponent points per possession stat under Pearl this season with a 1.024. That is slightly below average for college basketball teams.

When you subtract opponent points per possession from points per possession, a statistic called efficiency margin (EM) is derived. This is an indicator of how good a college basketball team is. Auburn finished this season with their best efficiency margin under Pearl with a .011. To put that in perspective, at this point in time North Carolina has a .16 and that is one of the best EMs in the nation. A .011 suggests that Auburn is an average basketball team.

The year before Auburn had a -.10 EM making them a poor basketball team in the eyes of metrics. For Auburn to make a .111 jump in EM over one season, that is a major sign of improvement.

Auburn is in an unprecedented point for recruiting as well. Auburn signed their first five-star recruit in program history when they landed Mustapha Heron. They followed that up with the signings of Austin Wiley, Chuma Okeke and Davion Mitchell, all of which are high profile recruits.

With the amount of talent and core of this year’s team returning coupled with the arrival of Mitchell and Okeke, all indications point toward next season being even better for the Tigers.

The season ended bitter sweet. Auburn might have ended the year by losing to the worst team in the conference in the first round of the SEC Tournament, but hope can be seen through the smoke of the dumpster fire that was the Auburn program at the end of this year.

Back away from the cliff Tiger fans. Auburn is taking steps in the right direction. Baby steps, but steps nonetheless.