Upon Further Review: Auburn Basketball Back on Track
Jarred Harper (1) goes up for layup aginst Tennessee Saturday March, 9, 2019 (photo: USA TODAY Sports)
Life under Bruce Pearl has been one strange, crazy, exasperating, frustrating, but ultimately rewarding ride. This season has just been another one of those years. Just when the Tigers looked to underachieve the lofty goals of which the entire country believed Auburn was capable, Pearl’s squad ended the regular season at home with a massive win.
There have been many amazing moments in the Pearl era. Kareem Canty going off for 26 points to take down Kentucky in Auburn arena in 2016 is a great moment. The deep run in the SEC tournament in 2015 that saw Auburn take down three opponents before facing off against perhaps the best Kentucky team ever assembled was fantastic.
That run featured an overtime thriller against LSU to see Auburn advance to the semifinals. The outstanding 2018 season may have ended with a thud, but Auburn won over 20 games, was the regular season co-champion and made it to the tournament for the first time in 15 years.
The recent win against the Vols ranks right up there along with seeing the outmatched Canty-led squad beat the Wildcats or the mixed-bag-team make noise in the SEC tournament. Only Pearl could create such drama. Of course, that drama isn’t just about one singular game, but how the season has gone.
Die-hard fans know the story, and rehashing it may get old, but now is when the casual fans tune in, and they deserve to understand what has transpired, what this team has gone through, and what this win means going forward.
Auburn’s 2019 squad has underachieved. It was supposed to be a race between Kentucky and Auburn to capture the SEC crown, one that Auburn shared with the Vols last season but would have owned out-right if not for some bad breaks, pun intended.
Auburn lost Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy before the season began and lost upstart Anfernee McLemore to a broken leg down the stretch, when the Tigers needed him the most. All of these pieces returned this season, along with the most prolific backcourt in Auburn history. Yet, Auburn never seemed to figure out who it was. Some of that was the collection of players. Some of it was injuries.
It didn’t always look that way. On January 19th, Auburn hosted Kentucky in a matchup of top five teams. Auburn played the ‘Cats close but lost. The Tigers lost their steam and started to stumble. That began a streak of three losses and a year that looked like Auburn wouldn’t beat a single ranked opponent as the Tigers tumbled down the brackets and the SEC standings.
There were bright spots, most notably Auburn’s winning 20 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in nearly 20 years. Still, there wasn’t a statement win. Auburn didn’t win a single game it wasn’t supposed to and lost a lot of games it should have won. Then the Tigers shocked the league in their regular season finale against No. 5 Tennessee.
With Austin Wiley still out heading into the game, Auburn seemingly had no one to fight the Vols’ obvious advantages on the boards and in the paint. And the guys from Rocky Top looked like a one-seed that could win the SEC outright with a win over the Tigers.
But, this is Bruce Pearl, and just when you think you know what’s going to happen, craziness breaks loose. This time, much to Auburn fans’ delight, the Tigers took down the Vols in Auburn Arena to send the seniors out with a huge win on national television with Dick Vitale calling the game. So Auburn wasn’t dead, and it wasn’t a disappointment, in fact the Tigers were just getting hot.
What a wild ride it has been, but this roller-coaster of a season is back on track and just in time.