adidas shoes uk Breaking down Auburn’s NCAA Tournament resume at the start of February
It’s been a long time since the Auburn men’s basketball program found itself anywhere near the position it is in now.
Last season was the Tigers’ best in nine years, and they started February with a 14 8 record. The last time they made the postseason in 2008 09, they were 13 8 at the beginning of this month. At this time in their last NCAA Tournament season in 2002 03, they were 15 4.
This season, Auburn enters February with a 20 2 record, which marks the program’s best start since the 1998 99 season. It’s just the 10th 20 win season in the 112 year history of the program, and there are still nine regular season games remaining, starting with a Saturday home game against Vanderbilt.
The Tigers are the highest ranked team in the SEC at No. 11 in the AP Top 25 poll their best mark since 2000 and have a two game lead atop the conference standings. They rank No. 7 in RPI and No.10 in KenPom.
At this point, it’s all but guaranteed that Auburn will make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003 and end a drought that has lasted 15 years since the end of the Cliff Ellis era.
“That was our goal. Our goal was not to be beaten,” forward Desean Murray said Thursday. “We just stick together, and we’re playing real good right now. We’re playing hard right now. We’re sharing the ball. We got a lot of depth, so a lot of people are contributing, which is making us real good right now.”
The bigger question now is not whether Auburn will make the 68 team field, but how high it might get seeded. As soon as Auburn hits 23 wins, the odds shoot up above 95 percent.
The only real knock on the Tigers’ resume is their strength of schedule, which ranks 41st nationally and 10th in the SEC. But Auburn will face seven of the nine teams ahead of it in that metric over its final nine regular season games.
Even if they lost all of them, the Tigers would enter the SEC Tournament with a 20 11 record and ranked 47th in the RPI, according to RPI Wizard. That might still be enough to get them in.
It’s hard to imagine Auburn losing out, even if its schedule does include tough home games against Texas A Kentucky and Alabama, and difficult road trips to Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Arkansas. RPI Wizard gives the Tigers a better than 50 percent chance to win seven of those nine games. KenPom projects Auburn to finish the regular season 27 4 overall and 15 3 in the SEC.
Auburn hasn’t won more than 24 games in a season since 1998 99. Bruce Pearl was still coaching at Southern Indiana then. Some of the Tigers’ younger players had barely been born.
Right now, most bracket projections including ESPN, CBS Sports and Yahoo have Auburn as a 2 seed in the field. TeamRankings gives the Tigers a 36.7 percent chance to stay in that spot, a 19.9 percent chance to drop to the three line, and a 24.1 percent chance to usurp favorites Villanova, Virginia, Purdue and Duke for a No. 1 seed.
If you really want to look ahead, Auburn is projected to have a 10.1 percent chance to make the Final Four, 3.9 percent chance to make it to the title game and 1.4 percent chance to win the National Championship.
“We haven’t even made the tournament yet. We’ve got a long way to go to make the tournament, but if I don’t talk to them about how you make the tournament and how you advance, I’m doing them a disservice,” Pearl said last week. “I want them to understand the difference between making the tournament and having a good seed.”
All this from a team playing without Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy that lost an exhibition game to Division II Barry three months ago.
“I feel like that was a game that really got our attention and was like, ‘we don’t want to go down like that; we don’t want to have the kind of year,'” Murray said. “‘We don’t want to lose like that.'”