Auburn basketball is just a week away from history
Auburn's team motto this season has been "make history." Even with the recent losses, the Tigers are on the doorstep of doing just that.
Auburn basketball isn’t hitting the final week of the regular season firing on all cylinders.
The Tigers have split their last six games, falling away from home in three straight matchups to Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee. They have slipped from their first-ever No. 1 ranking in the AP poll down to, currently, No. 5.
After a never-before-seen Saturday of carnage in college basketball in which seven top-10 teams lost, 34 of the NCAA Tournament projections at Bracket Matrix were updated. Of those projections, only 11 had Auburn as a No. 1 seed, with Baylor jumping into the top line after its win over Kansas and further solidifying it Monday with a road win at Texas.
All of that can easily take the wind out of the sails of some fans, even ones who have subscribed to the peacock movement this season. It’s March, and Auburn isn’t playing its best basketball at the moment — especially away from the Plains.
Auburn basketball is 25-4 heading into the final week of the regular season. It has a 13-3 record in SEC play. No one in the conference has a better record. The Tigers are one of three league teams who are undefeated at home. And, even with the recent issues, no one is within two games of Auburn’s 7-3 road record.
In the SEC standings, Auburn is up one with two to play. Beat either Mississippi State on Wednesday or South Carolina on Saturday, and the Tigers can raise a banner.
“First of all, we’re in position to win it,” Bruce Pearl said Monday. “So we want to take advantage of the position we worked so hard to put ourselves in.”
The SEC doesn’t recognize tiebreakers when it comes to conference championships, so if Auburn finishes with the same league record as Kentucky, Arkansas or Tennessee, there will be multiple champions.
Multiple champions mean tiebreakers will be needed to sort out the seeding for next week’s SEC Tournament in Tampa. Over the weekend, friend of the newsletter Nathan King neatly laid out all those scenarios at Auburn Undercover.
But the simplest solution is this: If Auburn beats both Mississippi State and South Carolina, it will be the outright league champion and will hold the No. 1 seed for the tournament. And that’s the Tigers’ ultimate goal.
“We still control our own destiny,” Jabari Smith said after the loss to Tennessee on Saturday. “Still got a chance to win a championship, so just trying to move onto the next game and focus on winning these next two.”
Winning an SEC regular-season championship might not have the prestige of a deep NCAA Tournament run or even a quick undefeated march to win the league’s own tournament. Auburn did both of those things in 2019, cementing themselves in the hearts and minds of Tigers fans forever.
Yet getting hot and winning eight straight to claim the SEC Tournament title and running all the way to the Final Four isn’t the same type of achievement as winning a regular-season title. In Pearl’s eyes, it’s the pinnacle.
“Absolutely, that’s what you play for,” Pearl said. “I place a greater value (on it). You guys have heard me say this many times — the regular-season championship in the SEC, to me, is the greatest prize. It’s not the tournament, because the tournament is three or four games. And I know what happens in March: You win six, you win a national championship.”
March gets all the glory and attention. But the grind of being the best through 18 games in January and February is what establishes a program as a power.
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