Mustapha Heron (above) is off to a good start as a college player.
Bruce Pearl lined up a pre-conference schedule intended to boost his team’s RPI (ratings percentage index).
As the Tigers head into a Monday evening game in New York City vs. Boston College of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Auburn has an RPI? at 21.
The Tigers will tip off at 5:30 p.m. CST (Fox Sports 1 television coverage) from Madison Square Garden looking to improve their record to 7-1. Auburn has sold more than 1,000 tickets to fans planning to be at the game to support the Tigers.
Boston College, which plays in the powerful ACC, will bring a 4-5 record into the contest. However, the Eagles have a very low RPI with a current ranking of 327, not far from the lowest rated team, Alabama A&M at 351.
“Oh, I’m thrilled with the RPI, but it just tells you how the RPI doesn’t mean a lot early in the season, but what it does say is ‘okay, all I can do is everything I can control, and that’s how you schedule,” Pearl said.
“So, when you play against the teams that we have played against like take North Florida or Georgia State, or Eastern Kentucky or South Carolina Upstate, those four teams, those teams have all played very difficult schedules. It’s why I played them. Teams that are near or at the top of their league, but teams that are willing to play four or five teams like us, and that helps out our RPI, and that’s why we’ve done it. Being 6-1 helps, too.”
AU finished with an 132 RPI in Pearl's first season at Auburn, improving from 160 in Coach Tony Barbee's final season. Auburn's RPI dropped to 179 in 2015-16 after a good start was ruined by injuries.
Auburn’s early season results have been led by a youthful starting lineup featuring three freshmen and two sophomores. One of the freshmen, guard Mustapha Heron, leads the Tigers in scoring at 15.4 points per game and rebounding with 6.4 per contest.
Heron, who is from Connecticut, is expecting a sizable group of friends and family to be in New York City to watch him play vs. Boston College on Monday, which is his 19th birthday.
“I have only been to Madison Square Garden once,” Heron pointed out. “I saw the Knicks play against the Pistons, and I am excited to play there, especially with it being on my birthday.”
While he is looking forward to the opportunity to play in the opening game of the Under Armour Reunion event at the famous arena in Manhattan, the freshman said it is important to not to get too up for the contest.
“I think just treating it like it's any other game,” he said on the best way to approach the contest. “You know, just not letting the venue get to you. At the end of the day it is basketball so you just go out and play.”
Asked what the coaching staff has told the players as they return to action after a nine-day break for final exams, the six-foot-five guard said, “Just try to play the right brand of basketball. Go out, play hard, and play our brand of basketball every second that we are out there.”
Auburn has played Boston College just three times and leads the series 2-1 with the last matchup a 77-67 victory for the Tigers at Auburn Arena in 2013.