The Auburn Tigers men’s basketball team recorded its most important win of the 2022-23 season last weekend when they toppled No. 12 Tennessee. The victory halted a skid that saw Auburn lose eight of its previous 11 games.
With 20 wins on their ledger, the Tigers seem likely to get a mid-range seed in one of the March Madness brackets when the field is announced at Selection Sunday on Mar. 12.
“We just lost to Kentucky and Alabama so we knew we had to get a win,” said Wendell Green Jr., the junior point guard who scored 24 points against Tennessee. “We see all the bracketologists’ stuff, so we knew we needed to get a win.”
Auburn is hoping to flip the narrative this spring. Last season, the team had a stellar regular season (28 wins and an SEC title), but in the NCAA Tournament, the No. 8 overall ranked team was knocked out in the second round. In 2023, coach Bruce Pearl wants to follow a puzzling regular season with a deep run in March Madness.
How far can the Auburn men’s basketball team go in March Madness?
Some might say that the Auburn Tigers are a non-conference bully that built its tournament résumé on wins over smaller, even lesser schools. What does that mean for the Tigers as they approach the tournament?
It means the team has a lot to prove to the experts who question the Tigers hot start, when they came out 8-0 and were as high as No. 11 in the Associated Press Division-1 college basketball poll. The win over the Vols last weekend to get to 20 W’s, is a good start in that direction.
In the deep weeds of SEC conference play, the Tigers lost to Texas A&M twice, Alabama twice, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, West Virginia, and Kentucky as they spiraled to those eight losses in 11 contests.
Most troubling was a shocking 32-point butt-whipping by Kentucky on Feb. 25 in Lexington. The Wildcats have had some flashes of excellence this season, but are they really 32 points better than the Tigers?
Bruce Pearl has a history of being able to prepare his teams for postseason success. The gravely-voiced, high-energy, sideline-pacing Pearl has three SEC conference tournament titles, and only one of them came when his team was top-ranked in the regular season. Pearl’s teams, from his tenure in Tennessee as well as now in Auburn, have a reputation as a “second season” tough draw. Pearl was named was named Coach of the Year by the Sporting News in 2006, and in 2008 he won the coveted Adolph Rupp Cup, which is presented annually to the coach "who best exemplifies excellence in his dedication to the game of basketball and to his student athletes.”
The Tigers will face Arkansas in the opening round of the SEC tournament on Thursday. Not only are the Razorbacks a bitter rival on the hardwood, but this game will be pivotal for Pearl and his kids. The Tigers, some might say, will need a win to punch their ticket to March Madness.
According to Griffin Foll of ESPN, eight teams from the SEC are projected to make the tournament: Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi State, and Auburn.
The Crimson Tide are projected to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, but first the SEC teams will battle in conference tourney play.
Only twice in the last six SEC tournaments has the regular season champion won the tourney. The SEC postseason play can be a jump ball, to use a basketball term for a basketball event.
Will Auburn’s win over Tennessee, and their 20 regular season wins be enough to get them into March Madness? If the Tigers lost to Arkansas on Thursday could the NCAA selection committee snub them? It’s unlikely the latter would happen, because the Tigers have enough impressive wins in a tough conference, to get in. It’s probable that the Tigers will be a No. 10 seed, maybe No. 11 if they drop their game to the Razorbacks.
Pearl and the Tigers have not one, but two options this season that they didn’t rely on last year. Greene, the quick, explosive guard from Detroit, is in his first season as a starter. He’s averaging 14 points and nearly five assists. He’s really a dual threat backcourt player, who looks to score first, and dish second.
Leading scorer Johni Broome transferred before the season from Morehead State. He’s a glass cleaner who has a nose for the basketball, one of those guys who always seems to get his mitts on the ball and has a knack for tip-ins. With Greene and Broome in the starting lineup, Pearl has weapons he wasn’t able to access last March.
Bloome scored only 10 points against Arkansas in their meeting earlier this season, but he’ll need to get more buckets in the SEC tournament, if the Tigers are going to make a growl in the postseason.
Pearl relies on four starters as the foundation: Bloome, Greene, senior Zep Jasper (a defensive specialist in the backcourt), and senior forward Jaylin Williams. But K.D. Johnson and Allen Flanigan will also share minutes in the backcourt and when the Tigers employ a three-guard offense.
Given the skill Pearl has shown to coax every ounce of effort out of his roster, it’s possible that the Tigers could make another run to the Final Four, as they did four years ago. An appearance in the Sweet 16 is very likely.
If Tigers fans want a reason to feel optimistic, they can look at the rankings from College Basketball Reference. According to that website’s Simple Rating System (SRS), Auburn ranks 26th in the nation among the 363 Div.-1 schools. That’s because the Tigers face a grueling conference schedule. Winning 20 games as an SEC team is typically a signal that the school is talented and among the best in the March Madness field.
Auburn is 18-11 in its 11 appearances in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Here is the school record in March Madness:
A few historical trends about Auburn Tigers basketball:
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