The coach that knocked Auburn out of the 2009 SEC Tournament?
The coach that got Auburn its first SEC Tournament win since that 2009 SEC Tournament?
Yep. Bruce Pearl. Basketball is weird.
For Auburn fans, weird is good. Weird is how rock solid Devin Waddell was on defense for the Tigers against Mississippi State last night. Weird is how hot Alex Thompson's three-point shooting was in the game of his life (yeah, just in case you thought you were still asleep and dreaming, you read that correctly—that happened). Weird is K.C. Ross-Miller's extremely finesse ball-handling against a scrappy Mississippi State defense. Weird is not giving the SEC's LEADING SCORER, FOR GOODNESS SAKES, in KT Harrell a 1st-team SEC spot this season, and then watching him score 19 stealthy points like it's his job, but hey—that's none of my business...
Hi, SEC coaches.
But again, weird is good. Auburn took care of business against the Bulldogs last night on the way to a 74-68 victory in the first round of the SEC Tournament in Nashville, and for fans who endured the pathetic SEC Tourney resume of the last Auburn head coach (who shall still remain unmentioned as long as I'm writing here), it felt weird. While it looked like the Tigers were unable to handle blowing an 11-point lead late in the 2nd half, Bruce Pearl found a way to help his players keep their composure. The rest, as they say, was history.
However, it's already in the rear view for Pearl and the Tigers as they take on 5th-seeded Texas A&M Aggies this afternoon. Auburn rotated plenty of guys in last night's game, so it'll be another interesting decision for Pearl in terms of who gets playing time against A&M, who beat Auburn twice this season by the scores of 71-61 (Auburn Arena) and 80-55 (Reed Arena).
Plain and simple, A&M is a much better team than Mississippi State, and to be fair, the Bulldogs were a team that Auburn should've beaten in the regular season—most likely in a fashion similar to last night's game. It's going to take much more than the "unsung heroes" showing up from last night to beat the Aggies, but if K.C. Ross-Miller can deliver consistent full-court ball movement, and if Devin Waddell and Alex Thompson can answer the call when needed, Auburn might look like a completely different team than the one A&M swept in the regular season.
The key for Auburn is going to be playing the same intense defense against the Aggies that stifled the Bulldogs last night, and that means sticking to junior guard Jalen Jones, who put up 19 against Auburn in the two teams' last meeting at Reed Arena in College Station. While his status has been questionable for the last several days, Auburn can expect A&M's other star junior guard, Danuel House, to bring his best if he is indeed healthy enough to play. However, it is still unlikely at this point, so this should benefit the Tigers on defense.
Big variables for Auburn will be getting Cinmeon Bowers back into the mix—who saw limited time against Mississippi State last night in favor of Devin Waddell's lights-out defensive effort—as well as finding ways to get Antoine Mason involved in the scoring. It's been a tough few weeks for the star guard, who was the recipient of a questionable technical foul last night. Pearl seemed to be able to quell Mason's emotions in a positive way, so perhaps with his first game back under his belt, he'll find some rhythm today against A&M.
No matter what, Mason is going to play, and as long as he's on the court, it's all about honoring his late father, Anthony Mason. Let's hope he can find the magic that he demonstrated in regular season SEC play.
As frustrating as this season has been for the Tigers in Bruce Pearl's first season as head coach, the team has been given another chance to win and advance in the SEC Tournament. Strangely enough, as long as Alex Thompson is on the floor, A&M will have to put a man on him to prevent him from shooting three's. For Auburn, the more often he's open, the better—if he can produce the way he did last night. Regardless, Thompson's presence on the court and threat as a three-point shooter will surely open up opportunities for players like Harrell and Mason. Combine this with solid passing from Ross-Miller and Malcolm Canada, as well as a fresh start for Bowers, and the Tigers will have a real chance to make a statement against the team that has everything to lose as they fight for one of the last NCAA Tournament spots.
It's the opportune moment for a scrappy, hard-fighting Tigers team to rise from the dust of a disappointing regular season and build on last night's momentum. The only easy day was yesterday, and there is no tomorrow. These boys have nothing to lose. Your move, Aggies.
So, here we go, Tigers. Let's get weird. Again.
War Damn Eagle.
(P.S. If you're at work this afternoon, find a way to take a late lunch break. Class? Unless you have an exam, skip that junk. Barn hard like there's no tomorrow.)
Auburn vs. Texas A&M
When: 2:00 PM CT
Watch: SEC Network
Stream: WatchESPN / ESPN3
Listen: Auburn IMG Network