What does Auburn need to do in Tampa to get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament?
The Tigers are a consensus top seed heading into the SEC Tournament. But a lot can change, and there are a couple of contenders lurking.
HC Bruce Pearl (Jacob Taylor/Auburn Athletics)
This Auburn basketball season is really testing how many times a person can reference the year 1999.
Auburn won the outright SEC regular-season championship for the first time since… 1999.
The Tigers ended the regular season with a winning percentage of 83.3%, which is the highest for the program in any season since… 1999.
Bruce Pearl was named the SEC Coach of the Year, becoming the first Auburn coach to win the award since Cliff Ellis in… 1999.
Jabari Smith was named a second-team All-American by Sporting News, giving Auburn its first All-American by an official selector since… 1999.
Smith was also named SEC Freshman of the Year, and he became the first one to take home the award since Chris Porter — who won it when it was still the “Newcomer of the Year” — in… 1999.
Walker Kessler joined Smith on the coaches’ All-SEC first team, which made them the first pair of Auburn teammates to claim that title since Porter and Doc Robinson in… 1999.
And right now, Auburn is projected to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for only the second time ever. The only other time was… 1999.
While those other accolades have already been locked down and officially handed out, the No. 1 seed is still to be determined. Selection Sunday isn’t for another four days, after all the dust has settled from the conference tournaments across college basketball.
Right now, Baylor, Gonzaga and Arizona look like virtual locks to claim No. 1 seeds. Baylor and Arizona could wobble some with early exits in their respective conference tournaments, but they’re clearly a cut above the pack across the board. The real drama has to do with the fourth and final spot.
Due to ESPN’s domination of television rights in college basketball — look at how few conference tournaments are not on their family of networks — the most prominent NCAA Tournament bracket projection comes from Joe Lunardi.
Lunardi’s pick will be the one most fans see throughout the week, and it currently has Auburn as a No. 2 seed, with Kansas taking its place on the top seed line.
Now, let’s make one thing clear from the beginning: Joe Lunardi is the original bracket expert in college basketball. He was doing it before everyone else, all the way back in 1996 for the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook and then in the early days of ESPN.com. There’s a reason why he is ESPN’s go-to source this time of year.
But there are a lot of people doing this now. Bracket Matrix currently compiles 129 projections from established bracket predictors all across the Internet. Of the brackets that have been tracked for at least three years on the Matrix, Lunardi is ranked No. 55 out of 135 for accuracy.
The point being: Lunardi’s very popular bracket isn’t the rock-solid truth — it’s a projection, after all — and there’s strength in numbers when it comes to finding accurate predictions for the NCAA Tournament field.