By Harrison Tarr
For the observer
The spring semester at Auburn University has a distinct atmosphere each year. As usual, the weather can’t decide whether it wants to be pleasantly warm or bitterly cold, downtown businesses are focused on bringing visitors to the Plains during the football offseason and excitement is building. for the beginning of thousands of students.
This year, there’s an added excitement that extends far beyond the realm of normality: the unprecedented success of Auburn’s 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 showed few signs of slowing down; in the midst of a remarkable season, the time has come for a remarkable set of awards, The Observer’s mid-season superlatives.
MID-SEASON MVP: WALKER KESSLER
It’s hard to fathom that Auburn has the possible No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, but Kessler has been the most valuable player on the court so far; the 7-foot-1 sophomore has been nothing short of amazing. Transferring from the University of North Carolina, Kessler is averaging 11.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game, making him the best rim defenseman of all college hoops. Although he often found himself in fouls early in the season, Kessler found a way to stay in games and force his opponents to try and score outside the paint.
6TH MAN OF THE YEAR: WENDELL GREEN JR.
Green is another example of Bruce Pearl’s remarkable ability to work the transference portal. After spending his freshman year leading the point at Eastern Kentucky, the 5-foot-11 guard has been a standout addition to Auburn’s rotation. Averaging 12.7 points, 4.8 assists and 38.4 percent shooting from the field, the fact that Green is technically Auburn’s “sixth man” is mind-boggling.
MOST UNDER-LOVED: ZEP JASPER
After speculation surrounded Auburn’s backcourt ability to enter the 2021-22 campaign, this group has only silenced the doubters. Jasper certainly helped lead the peloton to national prominence. Although he doesn’t display flashy numbers in the scoring column, Jasper’s impact on a game is remarkable; there are few guards in the game who are better 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-notch when it comes to talent. Big teams have a full roster of high caliber athletes and see little downside when the bench is on the floor. Bruce Pearl’s list is certainly the last. Prior to 2021-22, Auburn was widely expected to be a talented team that could win a lot of games due to their starting talent; no one expected the team to be this deep. With Green, Jaylin Williams, Devan Cambridge, Dylan Cardwell and Lior Berman, it’s no exaggeration to declare the Tigers one of the deepest teams in the country.
MOST HYPE MAN: DYLAN CARDWELL
There are players who make fans fall in love with them because of their ability on the pitch, players who gain affection by fitting into the school culture, and then there’s Dylan Cardwell. After playing a limited role as a rookie, Cardwell not only made strides to improve his game, but became an icon in all of Auburn’s sporting events. The 6-foot-10 center can be found blowing jungle kisses after an emphatic dunk, screaming for teammates from the stationary bike on the sidelines 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 fanbase picked him up and ran away. Between shouting at the student section, slapping the ball remarkably hard, and the iconic sticking out his tongue, Johnson’s on-court antics certainly bolster his claim as a madman on the court; the physical performance of the second UGA transfer seals the deal. Averaging 13 points and 2.1 steals per contest, Johnson is a threat when he comes down and is likely to hit three contested anytime.