The Auburn men's basketball team continues to roll after opening SEC play with a win on the road over Mississippi State, resulting in the program being ranked No. 5 in latest AP Poll and No. 6 in the NET Rankings.
Auburn's No. 5 ranking is the highest spot for the program since 2000, and the Tigers, at 13-0, remain only one of two unbeaten teams in the nation.
"We’re definitely about making history. I’m certainly proud of it," said head coach Bruce Pearl, who also downplayed the accomplishment while noting that it really doesn't matter where anyone is ranked at this point in the season. "It matters where you’re ranked at the end.
"Interestingly, we have not played a Quadrant 1 opponent yet. You won’t know until it all shakes out how many of those are going to wind up being Quadrant 1 wins. But we haven’t played a great team yet. We’ve played a lot of really good teams. We’ve played some teams that will be in the NCAA Tournament."
It's nice to be ranked in the top five, but the Tigers are after a championship, said senior center Austin Wiley.
"We got a taste of it last year, so we just want to build on that and continue to get better," he said.
A big reason for the Tigers' continued success, despite losing stars Bryce Brown, Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke off of last year's squad, is the improvement and emergence of point guard J'Von McCormick, who showed his potential with a career-high 28 points in the Tigers' win over the Bulldogs. For the season, McCormick is averaging 12 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game.
"I believe that J'Von has got a great story to tell in the sense that to be able to go from averaging 10 minutes a game last year, but playing great down the stretch, to then being our starter," said Pearl. "He's clearly one of our leaders right now performing as one of our best players from one year to the next."
After struggling off and on over the course of the season, senior forward Danjel Purifoy stepped up big for the Tigers against Mississippi State in the second half, finishing with 11 points, including eight in a row to provide a double-digit cushion with eight minutes left.
Pearl said he hopes the performance is a turning point for Purifoy, and that the senior put in a lot of hard work during the winter break.
"He stayed in the gym and was able to take advantage of not having to put 20 hours into the classroom to then put it more into the other areas of playing. It paid off for him," he said. "I hope that gets him going."
Auburn played Vanderbilt Wednesday night after print deadline, but the Tigers will try to add a big win to its resume on Saturday when they host Georgia, which picked up a surprising 65-62 upset over then-No. 9 Memphis last weekend.
The Bulldogs are led by Anthony Edwards, a preseason All-SEC First Team selection who is averaging 18.4 points a game. Forward Rayshaun Hammonds is also a beast on the boards, averaging 9.1 a game.
The Tigers and Bulldogs will meet in Auburn Arena at 11 a.m. Saturday. The game was originally scheduled for a 5 p.m. tip-off, but was moved up because of expected severe weather Saturday afternoon. The game was also set to be broadcast on ESPN, but that is expected to change.