By Harrison Tarr
For the Observer
Spring semester at Auburn University possesses a distinct atmosphere each year. As is customary, the weather cannot decide if it wants to be pleasantly warm or bitterly cold, downtown businesses shift their focus towards attracting visitors to the Plains during football’s offseason and excitement builds for the commencement of thousands of students.
This year, there is an added excitement that extends far beyond the realm of normality: the unprecedented success of the Auburn men’s basketball program.
For the first time in program history, Bruce Pearl’s team earned a No. 1 ranking in the AP poll and the Tigers have shown little sign of slowing down; in the midst of a remarkable season, the time has come for a remarkable set of awards, The Observer’s midseason superlatives.
MIDSEASON MVP: WALKER KESSLER
It’s difficult to comprehend that Auburn has the possible No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft yet Kessler has been the most valuable player on the court to this point; the 7-foot-1 sophomore has simply been incredible. A transfer from the University of North Carolina, Kessler is averaging 11.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per contest, effectively making an argument as the best rim defender in all of college hoops. Despite finding himself in frequent foul trouble in the early season, Kessler has found a way to keep himself in games and force opponents to try to score outside of the paint.
6TH MAN OF THE YEAR: WENDELL GREEN JR.
Green is yet another example of Bruce Pearl’s remarkable ability to work the transfer portal. After spending his freshman year running the point at Eastern Kentucky, the 5-foot-11 guard has been a remarkable addition to Auburn’s rotation. Averaging 12.7 points, 4.8 assists and shooting 38.4 percent from the field, the fact that Green is technically Auburn’s “sixth man” is mind-boggling.
MOST UNDERAPPRECIATED: ZEP JASPER
After speculation surrounded the capability of Auburn’s backcourt entering the 2021-22 campaign, this group has done nothing but silence doubters. Jasper has certainly had his hand in leading the platoon to national notoriety. Despite not posting flashy numbers in the scoring column, Jasper’s impact on a game is remarkable; there are few guards in the game who are better on-ball defenders and can keep opponents as off-balance as the College of Charleston transfer.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: AUBURN’S DEPTH
In the world of college basketball, good teams have five players who are top-shelf when it comes to talent. Great teams have a roster full of high-caliber athletes and see little dropoff when the bench is on the floor. Bruce Pearl’s roster is certainly the latter. Ahead of the 2021-22, Auburn was widely expected to be a talented team who could win a lot of games due to starting talent; nobody expected the squad to be this deep. With Green, Jaylin Williams, Devan Cambridge, Dylan Cardwell and Lior Berman, it’s not far-fetched to declare the Tigers one of the deepest teams in the country.
BIGGEST HYPE MAN: DYLAN CARDWELL
There are players who make fans fall in love with them due to their on-court abilities, players who earn endearment through embedding themselves within the schools culture and then there’s Dylan Cardwell. After playing a limited role as a freshman, Cardwell has not only taken strides to improve his game but has become an icon across all Auburn sporting events. The 6-foot-10 center can be found blowing kisses to the jungle after an emphatic dunk, screaming for his teammates from the stationary bike on the sideline or with his shirt off at literally any Auburn game for other sports.
CRAZIEST INDIVIDUAL: KD JOHNSON
Bruce Pearl once described KD Johnson as “bat crazy” and the entire Auburn fan base took it and ran. Between screaming at the student section, slapping the ball remarkably loud and the iconic sticking out of his tongue, Johnson’s on-court antics certainly bolster his claim as an on-court mad-man; the sophomore UGA transfer’s physical performance seals the deal. Averaging 13 points and 2.1 steals per contest, Johnson is a menace when he gets going downhill and is liable to hit a contested three at any given time.