Auburn's path to a great tournament seed — and a potential SEC title — is pretty clear
Even with the Florida loss, the Tigers have strong metrics and a chance at a strong finish for the postseason. Here's what they need to do.
(Grayson Belanger/Auburn Tigers)
After losing just four times in its first 23 games of the season by a combined 21 points, Auburn basketball finally got a taste of a truly tough defeat last Saturday.
Auburn’s 16-point loss at Florida — which came with a late Tigers run that made the final score look better than it probably deserved — felt like a sizable blow. Florida led by 9 before Auburn even scored, and the deficit nearly reached 30 in the second half.
But it wasn’t a “bad” loss for Auburn, at least in terms of what it meant for the numbers that help determine where it’s seeded in the NCAA Tournament. In the Selection Committee’s preferred NET ratings tool, Florida was a top-40, “Quad 1” opponent that was looking for a signature win to boost its own bracket chances.
And the fact the Tigers outscored the Gators 21-10 in the final 10 minutes of the game helped. Instead of getting completely blown out, Auburn fought to make the game more respectable in the final minutes — even if it was still a sizable loss.
“The math’s going to hurt us, but it’s not going to destroy us,” head coach Bruce Pearl said after the loss.
By the time Sunday and Monday rolled around, Pearl was proven to be correct. In fact, the 16-point loss to Florida barely hurt Auburn’s math.
Auburn entered Saturday at No. 7 in NET. When the rankings refreshed Sunday morning, Auburn was still No. 7 in NET.
In the analytics-based rankings systems, some of which the selection committee references in its own decision-making, Auburn slipped ever-so-slightly. The Tigers fell from No. 4 to No. 5 in KenPom and T-Rank. They dropped two spots from No. 3 to No. 5 in EvanMiya and Haslemetrics.
For such a lopsided loss, Auburn didn’t feel much of an impact in its metrics. Even the voters in the Associated Press poll didn’t ding the Tigers too much, dropping them from No. 12 to No. 13 on Monday.
Why? For starters, the Florida trip was the 24th game of the season for Auburn. It was one of its toughest and most-important ones, as evidenced by the Quad 1 status. But Auburn’s 18-point home win against a much higher-ranked Alabama team three days earlier carried even more weight.
When you look at the total body of work for Auburn, it’s easy to see why the computers love the Tigers. All 19 of Auburn’s wins have come by double-digits. Those can rack up the “style points” that help ratings such as NET and KenPom. And, again, the Florida loss was the first time all season that Auburn has lost by double-digits.
With seven games left to go in the regular season, plus the SEC Tournament in Nashville, it can easily feel like a lot can change between now and Selection Sunday.
And while that’s correct in terms of the SEC regular-season championship race — more on that later — Auburn is in a great position to come out with one of the top 16 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, even if it loses a couple more games down the stretch.
Auburn’s path to being a top-16 seed and having a shot at finishing the season with at least a share of the SEC championship, is pretty clear.
And it’s makes this week in Neville Arena a pretty significant one for the program.