Before the season, the Auburn Tigers were thought to be contenders in the SEC. However, after suffering back-to-back losses to Kentucky and South Carolina, head coach Bruce Pearl’s team is now below .500 in the league and with several more tough games ahead.
The good news for the Tigers is that it is early in conference play. The bad news? They still have to face a number ranked opponents, including No. 1 Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, LSU and Kentucky once again before the end of the regular season.
Not to mention, the Tigers also have to face in-state rival and rising Alabama twice as well, and will have to do it without star center Austin Wiley, who is out four to six weeks with a lower leg injury. And boy, do the Tigers miss him already.
Although the Tigers are primarily known for their outside shooting, they clearly miss Wiley’s presence inside. The 6-foot-11 junior averages 10.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game this season.
Wiley’s loss was really noticeable in Auburn’s 82-80 loss to Kentucky. They could have used his inside presence in the middle and Pearl made a reference to Auburn’s struggles without Wiley after the home loss.
“Kentucky’s bigger at every position,” he said. “They’re more physical at every position, and the way they could beat us is the way they could beat us, coming off of physical pin-downs, posting us up on the inside. They fouled out both Horace Spencer and Anfernee McLemore. So, we were in pretty deep foul trouble.”
Auburn is going to have to find a way to live without Austin Wiley and without falling completely apart. Many didn’t realize how important Wiley was to this team until he got hurt.
When the Tigers have struggled from the 3-point line, they could always count on Wiley to take up the slack. Now, they may have to depend on McLemore, the backup center, and Spencer to take their game to a new level.
Auburn point guard Jared Harper may have said it best: It’s time for the Tigers to “man up.”