Big Basketball Game, Important Recruiting Time

Phillip Marshall writes about Auburn basketball and football recruiting.

Random thoughts early on a Monday...

I thought Auburn's basketball game against Tennessee last Saturday was crucial. Now that it has been lost, Wednesday's game against Ole Miss at home is even more crucial. If the Tigers hope to squeeze into the NCAA Tournament, they simply can't afford to lose to the Rebels at home.

If they win, they will make the halfway point of the Southeastern Conference race at 5-3. That would mean a 4-4 record the second half would virtually assure an NCAA Tournament bid. The four road games in the second half are at Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and LSU. Auburn will probably be an underdog in all of them.

Even with a win over Ole Miss, Auburn won't be able to afford another home loss unless it steals one on the road. That's why the loss to Tennessee was so costly. Making it even more maddening for the Tigers is that it shouldn't have happened. Tennessee wasn't good enough to come to Beard-Eaves and win with Auburn playing at its best. But instead of playing at its best, Auburn played its worst SEC game of the season.

*The basketball race in the SEC West is getting very interesting. Auburn leads at 4-3, but Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are all a game back at 3-4. My guess is Mississippi State will be the team to beat down the stretch.

The most puzzling team in the West is LSU. The Bayou Bengals beat No. 1 Arizona in December and jumped into the national rankings, but they've won just one out of six in league play. If they don't turn it around in a hurry, they're not going to be on the board when the NCAA Tournament bids go out.

Alabama has also been a big disappointment in conference play. The Tide has struggled on the road. Winning on the road is tough for anybody, but it has been extremely difficult for Alabama in recent years. The Tide's visit to Arkansas on Wednesday will bear watching. The Razorbacks aren't very good. If they send Alabama home with another loss it won't bode well for the rest of the season.

On the other side of the league, Kentucky and Florida are rolling. Both have the look of teams that could make a run at the Final Four. Goergia is really good, too, but I don't think the Bulldogs are tough or hard-nosed enough on defense to make a run deep into March.

*It seems that team chaplain Chette Williams has become one of Auburn's prime recruiting assets. Player after player mentions Williams among the things they like about Auburn. Defensive end Quentin Groves, who committed Sunday, said Williams had a large impact on his decision.

Williams, a former Auburn player who had his share of trouble, is an inspirational man with a story of hope and redemption. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville might have made no better decision in his time at Auburn than bringing Williams back to his school.

*There will be a lot of frayed nerves in college football offices around the country the next two days. Recruiting visits are over. Players can sign Wednesday, and nothing is guaranteed until they put their names on the line.

Several prominent players who have made verbal commitments say they are still looking at other schools. That means, of course, they aren't committed at all.

Though fans have fretted at the slow pace of commitments, Auburn is poised to have a big-time year. Head coach Tommy Tuberville has said all along that this would be an outstanding class.

*Does anyone else have a problem with 18-year-old kids being turned into celebrities before they ever play a down of college football? It's become popular in recent years for players to call press conferences to announce their verbal commitments. Some wear one school's jersey and pull it off to reveal another or wear one cap and replace it with another. Some signings are going to be nationally televised Wednesday. Are you kidding me?

The adjustment from high school football to college football is difficult under the best of circumstances. When a young man arrives with the massive hype that follows many recruits these days, his job is even more difficult. Some are mature enough to deal with it (see Carnell Williams). Some aren't (see Willie Northern). Players, their families, their high school coaches and the colleges they choose would all be better off if the volume were turned down a bit.

Until next time...

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