What FBI Investigation? Auburn Serious Final Four Candidate

Jay Pryce

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 2:05 PM UTC

Wednesday, Jun. 13, 2018 2:05 PM UTC

Auburn returned three key players and locked up controversial coach Bruce Pearl with a five-year extension -- all in the last week. Another SEC title and NCAA Tournament run is likely despite serious outside issues.

Despite being a target of an ongoing FBI investigation into corruption, fraud, and bribery in men’s college basketball, Auburn is locked and loaded to repeat as SEC champion and reach the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years. Head coach Bruce Pearl recently signed a five-year contract extension through the 2022-23 season, while three key players in G Bryce Brown, G Jared Harper, and C Austin Wiley each pulled their name from NBA Draft considerations and will return to the school. The Tigers are currently +3000 odds to win the Final Four per 5Dimes, tied for 12th-shortest odds nationally. Don’t get caught up in the ongoing politics. There is value in this number.

FBI Probe Lingers

Pearl’s extension is rubbing many folks the wrong way. It sends an all-too-common signal that schools will often overlook immoral and illegal actions if it means they win. Let’s not skirt the issue here, Pearl is corrupt as they come. His former assistant Chuck Person was fired last year after being indicted on six charges by a federal grand jury for paying players. They were Daniel Purifoy and Wiley; each sat out all of last season. Pearl was also axed from Tennessee in 2011 after six seasons in charge following unethical conduct, a host of recruiting violations, and lying to NCAA investigators.

The athletic department is helping sell the extension by pointing out the men’s basketball program has enjoyed the highest NCAA academic progress rate (APR) in program history over the last five years, leading conference peers with 18 graduates and three perfect APR scores in this span. Kudos to academic development, but this boils down to on-court results and motivation.

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BRUCE PEARL IS FIRED THE HELL UP pic.twitter.com/sh8z90ero4

— Russell Steinberg (@Russ_Steinberg) November 17, 2017

The Tigers were picked to finish in the bottom half of the SEC last season after the suspensions and firing fallout. They went 26-8 SU and 19-13 ATS, sharing the SEC regular-season title with Tennessee and advancing to the second round in the NCAA Tournament. It was the program’s first time atop of the conference in nearly 20 years and its first NCAA berth in 15 years. Students were literally camping out for basketball over football tickets for the first time ever.

Key Returnees

Auburn could be more dangerous this season. The return of Brown, Harper, and Wiley give them a balanced core that shines in difference aspects of the game. Wiley, who missed all of last season due to the FBI investigation, offers an inside presence sorely missed in the 2017-18 squad. The 6-foot-11, rim-protecting center captained the U.S. U-19 team at the FIBA World Cup last summer. Pearl believes the NBA prospect can blossom into one of the best bigs in college basketball.

Brown, meanwhile, forces defenses to spread out with his outside shooting prowess. The rising senior scored double digits in 28 of 33 contests last season. Harper, however, is the key to the Tigers’ success. He was the only true point guard on the roster until Pearl landed JUCO junior playmaker J’Von McCormick from Lee College on Tuesday as backup. McCormink posted 18.5 points, 6.4 assists, and 5.3 rebounds per game last season.

The Tigers will have to fill the void left by leading scorer Mustapha Heron. Heron, who averaged 16.4 points per game, pulled his name out of the NBA Draft as well, but announced his intention to transfer in the process. The team is loaded with depth at the position. Samir Doughty and Purifoy — who can play after game number nine this season — are ready to step up.

Key Numbers

Since Pearl took over in 2014, Auburn is 30-6 SU and 23-12-1 ATS as a home favorite, topping a -8.6 average line by 4.3 points per game. It posts 86.4 points per game on 47.4 percent shooting. Catching some of the SEC’s best at Auburn Arena will keep them in the title hunt.

Where Pearl needs to improve is against ranked opponents. The Tigers are 6-10 SU and 6-9-1 ATS during his tenure, including a 3-5 SU and ATS mark when also sitting in the top 25. They enjoyed this position all of last season, and will likely stay their all year again.

Pearl, nor the Auburn program, is out of the clear yet in the FBI probe. The controversial coach stonewalled an internal investigation in the matter last season, leaving a vile stench hovering over War Eagle. The consequences of further wrongdoing could be catastrophic. Tennessee is just now rebounding from the condition Pearl left it. But like in sports betting, it's risk versus reward for the university. The Tigers are all-in for the upcoming season. They talent is their for a title run, yet further legal titles could sink the program into another decades-long funk.

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