It’s hard to find a better week for Auburn basketball than the one Coach Bruce Pearl’s Tigers had in Nashville at the SEC Tournament. Winning three games before bowing out to No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday, Auburn served notice that things are different under Pearl’s guidance. It wasn’t just what happened in Nashville that showed signs things are going to be different on the Plains, those happened throughout the year.
Consider these numbers. Auburn went 5-7 against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament and the Tigers had six wins over Top 100 RPI teams this season. That’s more than at-large UCLA had with five this year, something that shows how much progress the program made in just one short year under Pearl. With more bodies coming things look good for the future.
While the future is bright there will be a whole lot to replace off this year’s team starting with K.T. Harrell. Finishing his career with one of the best seasons any Auburn player has ever had, it was great to see him make the big shot to send the LSU game into overtime on Friday. What impressed me even more about Harrell was late in the game against Kentucky. Despite the outcome long decided against the Wildcats, he never backed off his game for a minute and was playing defense just as hard as he did the first minute. He will be missed, no question about it.
The same is true of Malcolm Canada. I don’t remember a player who improved as much from one year to the next as much as the senior guard did. He became a real threat for the Tigers as a penetrator and that showed up in the SEC Tournament when he played his best ball. Having to sacrifice his body as an interior defender at times, Canada earned the respect of Auburn fans everywhere.
Transferring in this season, Antoine Mason and K.C. Ross-Miller both earned their stripes this year with Mason having a very difficult year, first with an ankle injury and then with his father passing away. Through it all he delivered and had some of his biggest games in the biggest moments for Auburn. Up and down, Ross-Miller had his moments as well with some big shots at times this season.
With the NCAA Tournament starting this week there are always upsets in the first week and this year will be no different. I have always been a fan of picking the upsets because some I didn’t consider upsets. I remember watching Davidson and a young kid named Stephen Curry in 2008. Leading up to the Big Dance I thought they had a chance to do some damage. When they beat Gonzaga as a 10-seed it wasn’t an upset. Neither was a win over Wisconsin two days later.
The team that looks like that to me this year is Stephen F. Austin. With a lot of depth and some confidence after beating VCU in the first round last season, I think they’ve got a great shot to beat five-seed Utah in the first round and with Georgetown as the four-seed up next, I could see the Lumberjacks playing the second weekend this year.
Tough Week On The Diamond
To say it was a rough week for Coach Sunny Golloway and the baseball Tigers would be an understatement after they lost on Tuesday night to Samford and then suffered through a sweep at the hands of Texas A&M to open SEC play.
Outscored 29-7, Auburn’s problems came mostly on offense as the Tigers managed just 25 hits in 132 at-bats in four games and struck out 35 times. By comparison Samford and Texas A&M combined for 41 hits in the four games in 135 at-bats. An extra four hits per game is a big deal when you’re looking at just an inning or two each game providing the difference between winning and losing.
Texas A&M’s sweep of Auburn was one of four in the league as the Tigers’ next opponent Vanderbilt swept Arkansas in Nashville. Also sweeping the first weekend was South Carolina, which took out Kentucky in all three games. The surprise of the weekend came in Athens as Georgia was swept at home by Missouri. Alabama won two out of three at Mississippi State to get off to a good start while Tennessee managed to beat Florida once on the road in Gainesville. LSU finished off the weekend by beating Ole Miss twice in Baton Rouge.
Over the weekend Jay Jones visited Auburn and got an offer from the Tigers while on his trip. Jones is a talented quarterback that I first watched last season when McAdory High faced Spanish Fort in the AHSAA playoffs. Impressing me with his play that night, I was hoping to talk to Jones, but his team lost to bring their season to a close. Usually when that happens I end up going home without the interview I’m hoping to get, but that wasn’t the case with Jones.
Holding his head high and talking to me while obviously disappointed, Jones showed me something that night. While I think he’s a player who can help a team on the next level at quarterback or perhaps wide receiver or even defensive back if he doesn’t win a job behind center, Jones is going to be successful in my opinion and one interview was enough to show me why.
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