In all of the hubbub about Auburn basketball, it’s kind of shocking to keep chalking up wins and crossing off opponents before you realize that we’re already halfway through the SEC basketball slate. Long gone are the predictions of 4-14. What’s arrived is the hope of an honest-to-goodness high seed in the NCAA Tournament. The real one! The one on CBS!
Nah, get out of here Coach K.
Right now, the Tigers are 20-2 overall, 8-1 in the SEC. What’s more is that Auburn’s got a comfy two-game lead on the rest of the conference. Bruce Pearl mentioned that with one bad week you can quickly fall to fifth place in the league, but that’s a bit exaggerated. If Auburn lost the next two games, we’d be tied for first with Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee (assuming all three of those teams won their next two games). Take a look at the SEC standings before we make the turn after nine and head into the weekend.
Auburn with a 2-game lead in the SEC standings at the halfway point of the conference schedule. pic.twitter.com/M2Nx6Bu757— Brandon Marcello (@bmarcello) January 31, 2018
Auburn couldn’t begin the back half of the SEC schedule any better. See those last two teams down at the bottom? Texas A&M and Vanderbilt? The Tigers play both of them at home over the next several days.
2/3/18 - vs Vanderbilt - 7:30 pm CST
If you don’t think Auburn Arena will be just as rocking as it was last Saturday night, you’re joking. Vanderbilt’s given us a heap of trouble, mostly because it seems like we have to play at that silly gym year after year, but now the tables have turned and they come to us. We’ll see how that heartbreaking loss at Kentucky plays — do they build on a near-upset on the road, or do they wilt and wither? Either way, Auburn’s started to figure it out in both halves, and we haven’t seen a terrible twenty minutes of basketball in a couple weeks.
2/7/18 - vs Texas A&M - 8:00 pm CST
Two straight home games, and a late one to boot on a Wednesday night should have the Plains rocking again. The Aggies were a conference favorite, and a top five team nearly up until New Year’s, but injuries didn’t help, and they lost the first five SEC games on their schedule. A&M’s not great away from home, as all of their conference wins have come in College Station, and they can get blasted if things really don’t go well. Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, and even LSU all won by double digits when the Aggies came to visit.
2/10/18 - @ Georgia - 2:30 pm CST
This is a game that I’m worried about more than a week in advance. That could be just because I’ve seen how poorly we can play against the Bulldogs, and that worries me. They’ve got length, and one of the best players in the SEC that can rip you up on any given night. Still, Georgia’s lost four of their last six in the league. But they beat Florida at home by twelve. Can’t really tell, and with what Auburn’s got looming on the horizon, it may be a bit of a trap game.
2/14/18 - vs Kentucky - 8:00 pm CST
Happy Valentine’s Day, Brucie. We’re all going to be sending you our love as Kentucky comes to town for a late tipoff. I hope all the lonely hearts at Skybar come to Auburn Arena after a solid hour of drink specials to make sure the Jungle is loud and raucous. Kentucky’s not the Kentucky of the last few seasons, but they’re still as talented as anyone in the country. They lost by four to Kansas early in the year, and beat West Virginia on the road in the SEC/Big 12 challenge. They’ve also lost by ten or more at Tennessee and at South Carolina. The point is, the youth movement in Lexington goes through some growing pains, and I hope a hostile atmosphere is enough to send the Cats home with broken hearts.
2/17/18 - @ South Carolina - 2:30 pm CST
Here’s where it starts to get really rough. Starting with our trip to play the Gamecocks, it’ll be three of four on the road, with the lone home game a matchup with Alabama. Auburn will have played everyone else in the SEC by the time they head to Columbia, and this is a team under Frank Martin that I can’t figure out. Right now, they’re 4-5 in SEC play, and they haven’t shown particularly good play at home. They lost to Missouri at Colonial Life Arena, and they fell to Tennessee and Mississippi State on friendly turf as well. However, they beat Florida in Gainesville, won in Athens, and beat Kentucky at home. All over the map. I don’t think we’ll really know what we’re getting into until we hit the last half of February.
2/21/18 - vs Alabama - 7:30 pm CST
Here we go. This is the one we really want. After the Tide dealt us our only loss in the conference thus far, and broke a fourteen game winning streak, we figured that it was time to hand back some revenge. What’s bizarre is that the first meeting between these two will probably look as uncharacteristic as could be once the season’s all over. Bama didn’t have Collin Sexton, and instead John Petty hit eight threes or whatever it was in a 76-71 win. With Sexton in the lineup, it seems like they become more of a one-man show, and spread things around less and less. It’s easier to defend. Furthermore, they’re just as tough to figure out as anyone. They beat us, but lost to Vanderbilt and Missouri, and got blown out by Georgia. Hopefully they bring their SGA President this time around, because win or lose, we’re going to be doing some singing.
2/24/18 - @ Florida - 7:30 pm CST
At this point, it’s hard not to say that this game could be for all the marbles in the SEC. A regular season championship might hang in the balance in Gainesville at the end of February. Auburn’s got that two-game lead over Florida right now, but the Gators may have an added weapon by this point in the season. 6’11 center John Egbunu is hoping to come back and play this season after tearing his ACL last February, and he’s been going through some light practice over the last couple of weeks. If he doesn’t return, the Gators’ depth is an issue. They’ve got five or six guys that can really produce, but the bench hasn’t done much at all this year, and it’s contributed in their three conference losses.
2/27/18 - @ Arkansas - 8:00 pm CST
And here we have the final road game of the year, but it’s at a place that you can get run run run out of the gym by the Hogs. They love playing at Bud Walton, and it’s not up for debate that they’ve got one of the best home court advantages in the league. Auburn played one of the best games of the early half of the schedule when Arkansas came to town early in January, but the Tigers let the Razorbacks get back within single digits late. However, Arkansas’ won just four SEC games, and they’ve come by a combined eleven points, with two coming in overtime. In their five SEC losses, they’ve fallen by an average of 12.8 points per game, but only one of those has come at home. Even the 1998-1999 team gave up a hundred at Bud Walton Arena. Watch out.
3/3/18 - vs South Carolina - 2:30 pm CST
On to the finale. Auburn gets the Gamecocks for the second time in just a couple weeks in the return trip to the Plains. If Auburn can get through the four-game stretch before this, they may have a regular season title well in hand by the time we tip off on the last weekend of the season. Again, we haven’t even seen South Carolina yet, and so much can change in another month, but this game should decide whether Auburn gets that coveted double-bye in the SEC Tournament the following week at the very least. I would hope that Auburn doesn’t struggle enough down the stretch to risk missing out on that double-bye, but it’s a possibility.
Let’s say Auburn goes 50/50 in this final half and finishes SEC play at 13-5. That would mean going 5-4 to end the year. That would mean that one of either Tennessee, Kentucky, or Florida would have to go 7-2 over that same stretch to catch Auburn for the regular season title. If the Tigers can win these next two and get to 10-1 by the time the grinder really starts, watch out. Big game tomorrow, be there and be loud! War Eagle!