The Auburn basketball team moved back into the Top 10 this week in the USA Today Coaches Top 25 poll and the coach of the Tigers, Bruce Pearl, made an interesting observation about the same time the ranking was announced.
The veteran coach points out if you look at the current Southeastern Conference basketball statistics it takes a bit of research to figure out why the Tigers are the highest ranked team in the league with the most wins of any SEC team.
The Tigers certainly don’t shoot the ball as well as they did last year, something the numbers show quite clearly.
Defensively, the Tigers are in the bottom half of the SEC in several of the important categories. However, for much of the season the Tigers have led the conference in scoring margin and have climbed to as high as No. 4 in the national polls.
My take is a big reason for success has been the group’s mental toughness. With five seniors on the roster, including four starters and the top reserve in that group, this team has shown the poise it needs to successfully close tight games.
The Tigers certainly take pride in rebounding and their effort on the defensive end of the court. Combine that with experience and an athletic group of reserves that Pearl is not afraid of using, and Auburn has found the winning formula in what could have easily been a rebuilding season after having to replace so much talent off of last year’s Final Four team.
Another plus for the Tigers is a big assist from the fans, who have shown up in large numbers to support their team. They made Auburn Arena a fun place to be last Saturday as the Tigers defeated Kentucky and it should be rockin’ again this Saturday when SEC leader LSU comes to Auburn.
From the notebook:
• Mickey Dean’s third season as head softball coach at Auburn begins this week as the Tigers play five games in Clearwater, Fla., starting with a doubleheader on Friday vs. Baylor and Notre Dame. With 15 newcomers on the roster seniors like right-fielder Alyssa Rivera, third baseman Tannon Snow and pitcher Ashlee Swindle will be counted on to be a steadying force.
Dean says he really likes the 2020 group’s attitude and says a tough pre-conference schedule should really test the Tigers as they try to get up to speed to play in what looks to be another strong season for SEC softball.
• The baseball season will start a week after softball with the Tigers opening with a four-game home series vs. Illinois-Chicago. Coach Butch Thompson’s team will field a much more experienced lineup than the softball Tigers and heading into opening day the strength of the roster looks to be the quality of depth on the pitching staff. That is a big reason the Tigers are ranked in the Top 10 nationally in multiple preseason polls.
• The early signing period for football has really changed the recruiting landscape in that sport. For Wednesday’s national signing day, there wasn’t much action at Auburn or with other SEC programs with so many of the top prospects signing back in December.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter