Auburn, Ala.--After finishing 18-14 overall, 7-11 in the SEC regular season and going one-and-done with an upset loss to Missouri in the SEC Tournament on Wednesday night, Coach Bruce Pearl said the Tigers are done with games for the 2016-17 season.
“I am announcing today we will not be accepting a bid to any other tournament other than the NIT,” the third-year Auburn basketball coach said. “Obviously, we have not done enough work to get into the NIT.
“Our expectations this year, one of our goals, was to go to postseason,” he said. “At this level postseason means the NCAA Tournament or NIT.”
Pearl said he doesn’t want to demean the other events, but noted that it was his call to rule out other tournaments like the CBI because he believes it will make his 2017-18 hungrier to do what is necessary to make postseason.
The coach also noted while the goal was to make the NIT this season, the bar will be raised higher for 2017-18 with the NCAA Tournament the team’s goal. "I rarely, rarely have said that," Pearl pointed out. "I talk about postseason. I wasn't going to put that on this year's team, I thought that was too much to ask, but I thought the NIT was realistic.
"I think next year the NCAA Tournament is realistic and it should be our expectation," he added.
Auburn’s last postseason bid was in 2009 when Coach Jeff Lebo’s Tigers won 24 games and reached the quarter-finals of the NIT.
“We had lots of opportunities to win our way into either tournament and we were just not able to do it,” said Pearl, who noted that the way the season played out he believed the team should have won at least 20 games. "I do think we came up short we came up short of what my expectation was...For that we remain accountable.
"At the same time you know we have come a long way with Auburn basketball when I hear complaints from folks--sometimes it is in the media--of the quality of our SEC wins," said Pearl, who contends that indicates the program has made progress. "I have raised the bar and the expectation and I am okay with that, but to not recognize the fact that 18 wins is not a common thing would be to do disservice to the progress this team and program has made."
Mustapha Heron earned Freshman All-SEC honors this season.
The next time the Tigers play a game it is expected to be part of a summer exhibition tour in August. Pearl said he may be taking the 2017-18 to play in Italy, but the details have not been finalized. The team will get 10 extra full squad practice dates to prepare for the trip. "It is going to be great for us," said Pearl, who noted it will be good for the players' growth as students. "Every year I have gone the following year has been terrific...it is a great way to grow closer together."
Pearl said the team's practices in the spring and early summer will be focused on defense. "We are going to be very fundamental," he noted. "I am going to have my hands all over it."
Offensively, the Tigers generally played well enough to win almost every time out on the court, but the defense was an issue.
"I think our fans could have expected, should have expected us, to win three or four more games without putting a specific number on it," said Pearl, who noted the Tigers' inability to hold leads was an issue. "A couple of games that jump out at you are the Ole Miss games, both of them, the Georgia games, both of them. Obviously, the tournament game to Missouri."