Everything worked in Auburn's favor on Wednesday night as the Tigers moved into a four-way tie at 7-8 with an 80-68 victory over LSU. Arkansas dropped Mississippi State and Alabama handled Ole Miss, setting up this weekend's dramatic finish to the regular season.
The math is anything but simple for the Tigers, Tide, Dogs and Rebels, but a win would clinch a share of the Western Division and a first-round by in the SEC tournament played in Atlanta starting Thursday, March 8. A loss would mean a third, fourth or even a fifth-place finish depending on what the Razorbacks (6-9) do at Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Auburn and Ole Miss get the first draw with a 1 p.m. CST tip from the "Tad Pad" in a game that will be televised on Lincoln Financial Sports. The Tide and Bulldogs close out the SEC season with a 1 p.m. CST tip at "The Hump" on Sunday, also to be televised by LFS.
If the Tigers and Tide win then Auburn would get the No. 1 seed from the West in Atlanta by virtue of 8-8 records and a season sweep. If Auburn and Mississippi State claim victories then Rick Stansbury's club would be No. 1 while Auburn would be No. 2, also because of a season sweep.
Here are the seeding possibilities for each team (a No. 2 seed would mean a share of the division title under any circumstance):
Auburn -- 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th
Alabama -- 2nd, 4th, 5th
Ole Miss -- 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th
Mississippi State -- 1st, 3rd
Arkansas -- 3rd, 4th, 5th
LSU -- 6th
For a more detailed explaination, Click Here.
With one more victory in the regular season or in the conference tournament, Auburn should feel good about its chances for an NIT bid. With an RPI above 100 before the victory over LSU, the Tigers would need to make it to Saturday in Atlanta to get to 20 wins and get a serious look at an NCAA bid.
Just a sophomore, Quantez Robertson has turned into a leader for Lebo's squad.
Just eight days ago Auburn was set to play Arkansas at Beard-Eaves, a team it had lost to earlier in the season in Fayetteville. The Tigers were on a four-game losing skid. Quan Prowell was missing. Rasheem Barrett couldn't hit a shot from anywhere on the court. Korvotney Barber had gone quiet. Frank Tolbert had reverted to his old wild ways.
Auburn was 4-8, hadn't won back-to-back SEC games all season and looked to be quickly headed out of the picture.
All was lost, or so it seemed.
Lebo made a change to the line-up and the way Auburn would play on both ends of the court. Quantez Robertson, who had started the last 55 games at point guard, was moved to shooting guard and freshman DeWayne Reed was called on to run point.
Auburn beat the Razorbacks that Wednesday night, came out with confidence the following Saturday and rolled over the Tide in Tuscaloosa and again took care of business versus LSU to get back into the mix.
"I think the guys understand now what it takes to win," says assistant head coach John Cooper, who filled in on Wednesday night for an ill Lebo. "They're playing with some confidence and now it's just a matter of going out and executing. You always want to play well down the stretch of the season."
And playing well down the stretch is exactly what the Tigers are doing.
"We got back together and started winning," Barber explains. "A tie at first sounds real good for where we started at. We're learning how to play together and we're learning what it takes to win. I think it's a big learning experience right there."
Turning the season around with three wins after four consecutive losses, the Tigers showed that they know how to deal with losing. Now they must show that they can handle success.
"It's very exciting," Josh Dollard says, "but at the same time we have to go in and get the job done. We can't think about (finishing first) right now because anything can happen. Things were up and down all season long so we've just go to focused, stay humble and get the job done."
Auburn's victory over LSU locked up the first winning season on the Plains since the 2002-2003 season when Marquis Daniels and Co. beat St. Joseph's and Wake Forest before falling to eventual-champ Syracuse in the Sweet 16.
Probably because of the lack of success in recent seasons, Jeff Lebo and his players don't talk much to the media about goals and expectations. They talk more about winning the next game.
Win or lose in Oxford on Saturday, the Tigers have to feel good about what they have accomplished this season. After all, they are officially a part of the March Madness.