Aubserver Mailbag 110: How worried should fans be about the Big Dance right now?
This week: Bracket projections, SEC hoops, future rosters, refs, late-game execution, spring practices, Suni Lee and the Super Bowl
C Johni Broome (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Conventional wisdom, or at least just a brief glance at a schedule, says that Auburn basketball fans should be really worried right now.
Auburn has lost four out of its last five games. The Tigers have just won one of the coveted Quadrant 1 games this season. They’re out of the Top 25 for the first time since the COVID campaign and no longer have the insanely long home winning streak to their name.
But, heading into a weekend in which College GameDay and a red-hot Alabama team is in town, the vibes around Auburn basketball are much more positive than one might expect.
“A couple of losses on the road doesn't really just affect us mentally,” Dylan Cardwell said Thursday. “We know we're a better team than we're showing right now. But everyone's still in high hopes, and we're still a good team. We're gonna peak at the right time.”
Auburn has missed some big opportunities over the last couple of weeks, but it still has several more of them in the final month of the regular season. The chance to be a double-bye team in the SEC Tournament and a solid seed in the NCAA Tournament is still attainable.
And the numbers can back that up.
In the return of the mailbag this week, there are a number of questions about the trajectory of the basketball program right now — and in a brighter-looking future, thanks to some excellent work on the recruiting trail. There are also a number of questions about the referees (of course) and how Auburn can fix some of its problems down the stretch.
We get into all that, along with a few pre-spring practice football questions and a little Super Bowl chatter toward the end.
Thanks as always for your support of The Auburn Observer. It’s been a really busy last couple of weeks on the road, but I personally wouldn't have it any other way. Each and every one you reading this Mailbag help make it all possible.
People are starting to say Auburn might miss the tournament. How worried should we be?
Auburn fans shouldn’t be worried about this team missing the NCAA Tournament. Not yet.
Let’s just look at the numbers. Auburn is currently No. 32 in the NET rankings. There are 32 teams that get automatic bids in the tournament each season by winning their conference tournaments. That leaves 36 at-large bids. Ten of the teams ahead of Auburn in NET are projected conference winners, which means the Tigers are roughly No. 22 among the teams trying to get an at-large bid.
To put it another way, Auburn has to fall pretty significantly over the next few weeks to be out of the tournament field. Even though the Tigers have lost four of their last five, the losses aren’t resume-killers by any means. In the latest round of updated projections on Bracket Matrix, Auburn is still a composite 7 or 8 seed. The Tigers would have to fall four or five seed lines to be out, so to speak. That’s a lot!
Just take a look at the rest of college basketball. Auburn, even with its flaws, is a top-30 team in pretty much every advanced ratings system like KenPom or T-Rank. The Tigers’ projected KenPom record of 21-10 and 11-7 in SEC play is almost always an NCAA Tournament team — and this is a pretty weak bubble.
Now, if Auburn is unable to win any of its remaining Quad 1 opportunities (Alabama x2, Tennessee, Kentucky) and doesn’t take care of business against the three teams it’ll be favored to beat (Missouri, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss), yes, things would get dicey heading into Nashville.
But, so far, it’s not like Auburn is getting blown out in these road Quad 1 losses. All four of them have been by a combined 14 points. The Tigers are a few oh-so-close 3-pointers or an even whistle away from having a much stronger resume right now. Yes, the whole goal is to actually get wins. However, the difference between Auburn being 21-3 right now instead of 17-7 is just a handful of possessions. That’s… not a lot!
Auburn is a good college basketball team that has hit a rough stretch of its schedule that has been affected by some bad fortune and uneven play. It’s not like this is a team that’s in panic mode, as Bruce Pearl said when I asked him about his team during this streak of tough missed opportunities:
“Listening to the broadcast last night on ESPN, Jimmy Dykes said that Auburn would be a desperate team. We've got opportunities in front of us. It depends what your perspective is. Like, I don't feel desperate. I feel like I've got a really good team that's playing really hard. That is competing every night and we're giving ourselves a chance. I don't feel desperate.”
Pearl doesn’t feel desperate. His team doesn’t feel desperate. And the fan base shouldn’t feel desperate. Not right now.
is it just me or is the sec [trash emoji] this year in hoops?
Alabama is clearly the best team, is undefeated in conference, and won all those games by double digits. Yet they’ve either lost or been played close by pretty much every decent OOC team they’ve played. Does this mean anything? Nothing?