What Are Auburn’s Chances to Make Back-to-Back NCAA Tournament Appearances?
Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl plans to take he Tigers back to the NCAA Tournament (photo:USA TODAY Sports)
The Vanderbilt basketball team is winless in SEC play, yet Auburn’s 64–53 basketball victory Saturday may have been the most important game of the year for the Tigers. Reeling from an unexpected loss to Ole Miss at home made Auburn’s game in Memorial Gymnasium a must win.
And not because it was a road win or because it was the Tigers’ first win in Nashville in 20 years. No, the reason the game was crucial was because of the impact a loss would have on Auburn’s postseason resume. Had the Tigers dropped the contest, it would have seriously hurt their standing with the selection committee for the NCAA Tournament.
Although the victory was sweet it leaves us with some concerns about a recently sluggish offense. The Tigers shot only 34.7% for the game—the second-lowest offensive production of the season. Most see Auburn’s strength as shooting the three-shot. And when the three’s are falling the Tigers are a tough team to beat, but when they are not, they become average. But those 3-point shots don’t open up if they can’t score inside.
So how did they get the win? “We had great effort and energy defensively, and I thought that was a real key for us,” said coach Pearl. “The communication in the huddle was about winning. It was about getting stops. It was about executing. They came here to win, and we made some progress.
It was the Tigers’ second road win this season, improving their record to 17–8 and 6–6 in SEC play and giving them momentum as they head down the final stretch.
It just goes to show what a good coach can do, when one area of a team’s game is off, to make adjustments and get a win. The real strength of Auburn’s basketball team is not the 3-shot, it’s the coach.
Pearl’s taken some heat lately for some of Auburn’s losses, but after an up and down season he has this team in a good position to become only the third team in the last three decades to go to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. With six SEC games left in the regular season, my money is on Bruce Pearl.