In his eighth season on the Plains, at a decidedly non-basketball school prior to his arrival, Bruce Pearl has climbed the mountaintop and done something nearly unthinkable in earlier Auburn basketball history.
The Tigers are now the top-ranked team in America after today’s Associated Press poll was released.
Last week, Auburn came within a hair of snagging the top spot, with just four points separating them from Gonzaga, even though the Tigers earned 36 first-place votes to the Bulldogs’ 25. It was due to the fact that a couple of notorious voters (the recalcitrant Jesse Newell being one of them), but Auburn was as close as they’d ever been to being the best hoops team in the country.
Now, after a 2-0 week during which Auburn demolished Georgia at home before the biggest regular season game in Tiger basketball history against Kentucky, there was little doubt who would sit atop the new rankings.
With the rise to #2 last week, Auburn made its fourth appearance in the runner-up spot, becoming the third team to ever do that without holding a top ranking. Now, the Tigers are the 61st program all-time to become #1, and this comes as Auburn appears in the AP Poll for the 12th straight week, which is tied for the fifth-best streak in program history.
With the win over Kentucky, even voters like Newell knew that their game was up, as the computers boosted Auburn with the victory over the KenPom #3 team. Auburn now sits at #5 in the KenPom ranking, and with the number of voters who ranked the Tigers second or lower last week dwindling, the rise was a foregone conclusion.
Now the question that remains to be answered is how long can the Tigers hold onto this massive accomplishment? Let’s take a look at the schedule from here on out:
- January 25 - @ Missouri
- January 29 - vs Oklahoma
- February 1 - vs Alabama
- February 5 - @ Georgia
- February 8 - @ Arkansas
- February 12 - vs Texas A&M
- February 16 - vs Vanderbilt
- February 19 - @ Florida
- February 23 - vs Ole Miss
- February 26 - @ Tennessee
- March 2 - @ Mississippi State
- March 5 - vs South Carolina
Now, winning out the rest of the way would be an almost unheard-of feat, and nobody expects the Tigers to do that. After all, it matters most to be ranked first at the end of the season than it does now, obviously. Still, with Auburn holding a sizable edge in the conference standings —
The Tigers magic number will continue to get smaller and smaller to win the SEC outright in the regular season. Auburn already has victories over Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, and LSU (all SEC teams ranked in the KenPom top 30), and a two-game lead over everyone without counting the various tiebreakers. Plus, Auburn should expect to do very well in the remaining conference home games as they’re 56-4 in their last 60 full-capacity tilts at Auburn Arena.
With five remaining games against the bottom five teams in the league standings, Auburn has played through the most difficult portion of the schedule (no more Kentucky or LSU), and the consensus toughest game left on the slate is the February 26th affair at Tennessee, but Bruce Pearl takes that game personally. Auburn hasn’t lost to the Vols since 2017 — a six-game win streak in the series.
However, now that the Tigers hold the top spot, they’re no longer hunting. They’ll get everyone’s best shot. That just means that it’s time to Peacock even harder and enjoy this wild ride.