So, this week, Auburn had its best and worst performance of the season. After the Boston College loss, some wondered if we'd win a SEC game this season. After Thursday night's win and Sunday's buzzer beater, this team and its fans rediscovered the fun.
All said, we sit at 8-2. Most computer rankings put us at the dead center of the SEC. We're ranked 56th in ESPN's RPI ratings, or, 8th in the SEC. We're 99th in KenPom, or, 12th in the SEC. Sagarin puts us at 73rd, 7th in the SEC.
The Power Poll of SBNation #SECBasketballFever writers at Rock M Nation have Auburn a fairly solid 6th in the league. This is a group of basketball writers from most of the SBNation SEC sites that watch a lot of college basketball so I would put this poll in the category of "eyeball test" from people who have seen the entire SEC play.
Four teams in the conference--Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Florida--seem to be legitimately good. Texas A&M has lost to a few good teams but seem solid. Most of the remaining teams have at least one bad loss.
Ole Miss lost to MTSU 77-62. MTSU may turn out to be good, but directional school losses go in the bad category until the season plays out more. Vandy lost to Bucknell. Tennessee lost to Chattanooga. Miss State has several to pick from so let's take Lehigh. Missouri lost to <strike>NC Central</strike> <strike>Eastern Illinois</strike> everybody. Other schools like Georgia and Alabama sit somewhere in between with no quality wins or embarrassing losses.
Auburn's loss to Boston College was bad. But, in this year's SEC, it makes us more normal than not.
Performance Against Common Opponents
Several nonconference teams have played multiple SEC squads. MTSU has two SEC wins, beating Ole Miss and thumping Vandy. Comparing Auburn's performance against common noncon foes to others may give us some idea what to expect in January.
North Florida 0-4
Auburn beat the Ospreys 83-66 to open the season. The Ospreys have also played LSU, Florida, and Arkansas. Auburn's 17 point margin of victory is bigger than Arkansas' (15) and LSU's (8), but less than Florida's (31).
Georgia State 0-2
Auburn beat the Panthers 83-65. Mississippi State did slightly better, beating Georgia State by 22.
USC Upstate 0-2
Auburn found themselves in an uncomfortably close, 90-83 game with USC-Upstate. Going into the game, it was expected to be one of the easiest of the preseason. Alabama handled them more easily, 78-61.
Coastal Carolina 0-2
Alabama opened the season against the Chants, pulling away for a 70-53 win. Auburn dominated early and late in a 117-72 win.
Florida defeated Mercer 76-54 to open the season. Auburn required a last-second buzzer beater against the Bears to win 76-74.
So, how does Auburn stack up? It will be impossible to tell for sure until conference play starts but Auburn looks like a middle of the road SEC team, even factoring in the loss to Boston College. Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Texas A&M have established themselves as a fairly solid 1-5. Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Missouri will be 12-14 (although State may be a very dangerous 12).
The remaining teams will finish in some seemingly random order of 6-11. I tend to think Auburn will be in the top half of that group, finishing no lower than 9th. Georgia is in a fairly similar spot. Alabama and Vandy likely fall towards the bottom half of that group. They've struggled for wins against really good schedules this year.
The big X factor in all of this is how Austin Wiley affects Auburn. He brings a lot of upside and talent to the program but Auburn now has to rediscovery team chemistry with him in the middle. The offense will run through the lane more often. He will not only score, but create open shots for others. All of this is good, but Auburn's offense has had a fairly decent flow without him that has to be rerouted with him. It's going to be a positive for the Tigers in mid-January forward, but there will be some growing pains between now and then.
My prediction before the Boston College game was that Auburn finishes .500 in conference with 9 wins. After this last week, factoring in Wiley, I'll raise it to ten (which last year would have put the Tigers in a tie for 6th or 7th).
Ten wins probably won't be enough to get Auburn into the Tournament this year. According to ESPN, the SEC has four teams that would be in the tournament if the season ended today: Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida, and Texas A&M. Arkansas is listed as one of the first four out. Five in the tournament would be a pretty good year for the SEC. Last year, we put three in. The SEC has only placed five teams in the tournament twice in the last six seasons.
Given our record and the way the conference is setting up, Auburn needs at least twelve conference wins to even dream about making the NCAA tournament. Twelve wins will be pretty hard to come by in the SEC.