AUBURN — Welcome back, Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl.
Pearl never actually went anywhere — his Tigers made noise last year by winning at least 20 games for the fifth time in six seasons — but his traditional style of play did.
The 2023-24 campaign will be Pearl’s 10th at Auburn, where he’s built a reputation for having his teams run up and down the floor with no shortage of 3-pointers along the way. In Pearl’s eight years on the Plains prior to last season, the Tigers finished with a tempo in the nation’s top 55 six times and in the top 35 four times.
But last season was different. Auburn ended with a tempo of 68.6, according to KenPom, which ranked No. 146 nationally. That’s the lowest mark the Tigers have registered in that stat since Pearl’s first season at Auburn. Additionally, only 35.2% of the Tigers’ shots last season came from beyond the 3-point arc, which is the lowest mark of the Pearl era.
In the other two seasons in which Auburn was outside the top 55 in tempo, at least 44.1% of the team’s shots were 3-pointers. Never before had the Tigers coupled such a slowed-down pace with a lack of triples under Pearl.
It’s time for Pearl to get back to his style of play, and he’s got the roster to do it.
Auburn brought in five scholarship newcomers this offseason, with the headliner of the additions being five-star freshman Aden Holloway out of Prolific Prep in Napa, California. The Tigers also grabbed four transfers, two of which came from junior colleges: Chad Baker-Mazara (Northwest Florida State College), Chaney Johnson (Alabama-Huntsville), Denver Jones (Florida International) and Addarin Scott (Navarro College).
Holloway, who is known for his sweet shooting, is a 6-foot-1 point guard. Baker-Mazara (6-7), Johnson (6-7) and Jones (6-4) all have different games, but each has the ability to play from the perimeter. Scott, listed at 6-9, is more of an inside presence.
The trio of Baker-Mazara, Johnson and Jones shot a combined 39.2% from beyond the 3-point arc at their previous schools in 2022-23. The perimeter players who left Auburn during the offseason — Allen Flanigan, Wendell Green, Zep Jasper and Chance Westry — shot 29.3% from long range with the Tigers last season.
Pearl and his staff put a premium on adding 3-point shooting this offseason, and the 63-year-old coach is already confident in his roster’s ability from deep.
“I’m not worried about it,” Pearl said after his team’s 102-66 exhibition win over Auburn-Montgomery on Wednesday. The Tigers shot an ugly 20% from 3-point territory. “We’re going to shoot it fine.”
And it’s not just that Auburn’s personnel appears better suited to let deep shots fly. The team is deep, with at least two players at every position Pearl is comfortable with being on the floor: “I think that we could have 10 guys playing 20 minutes,” Pearl said. “That’s a possibility. That won’t necessarily be the case, but that’s what it’s been throughout practice. Take whatever position you want.”
Auburn’s depth should be its biggest strength in 2023-24. The Tigers need to run the floor and test the conditioning of their opponents, because while other teams may be more talented at the top of their rosters, most won’t be comfortable reaching as deep into their bench as Pearl will be.
Chaos, speed and triples will be key for Auburn. For the Tigers to go on a run and surpass what they accomplished last season, they’ll need to get back to what Pearl does best and move at a pace that rivals Pearl’s early days on the Plains.
Richard Silva is the Auburn athletics beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @rich_silva18.
This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: How Auburn basketball can benefit from going fast in 2023-24