Based on what we have seen so far in pre-conference play, Southeastern Conference basketball is not performing up to the standards of the 2018-19 season, which was an outstanding year for the league.
While Auburn, Arkansas and Kentucky are off to the best starts record-wise among SEC teams and everybody has winning records other than Alabama and Texas A&M, the league doesn’t have an abundance of signature wins vs. potential NCAA Tournament teams as was the case in 2018-19.
That is reflected in the first NCAA Net Rankings that came out this week. Ohio State is No. 1 nationally and Auburn is the top SEC team at No. 7. Arkansas at 23 and Tennessee at 25 are the only other SEC teams showing up in the net rankings Top 25.
If the league is going to put a lot of teams in the NCAA Tournament many of the programs across the league need to step up their performance levels over the holidays before the start of the conference schedule in January.
This week the Tigers have a chance to produce a good win for the themselves and the league as the 8-2 North Carolina State Wolfpack of the ACC visits Auburn Arena on Thursday night. If Bruce Pearl’s team can win that game and improve to 10-0, not only will the Tigers remain the only unbeaten Power5 team in the country, Auburn will have a real chance to be 12-0 to open the SEC schedule on Jan. 4th at Mississippi State.
As Pearl likes to say, and it is quite true, his team featuring a rebuilt starting lineup is very much a work in progress. However, there is a lot to like when it comes to this group’s ability to play with intensity and make stops on defense that have helped the Tigers avoid any losses so far this season.
From the notebook:
• When the early signing period for football ends on Friday, Gus Malzahn is expected to have a Top 10 ranked group. One of his prized recruits, wide receiver Kobe Hudson from Troup County High in LaGrange, Georgia is graduating early and participating in Auburn’s on-campus bowl practices.
• Although Auburn’s bowl opponent hasn’t been a power in the Big Ten for many decades prior to this season, Minnesota goes into its first-ever football game vs. Auburn with a solid record vs. SEC teams in postseason matchups with eight wins, eight losses and a tie. The Tigers are 8-4 in bowl games vs. Big Ten teams and 11-8-2 in all games vs. that conference.
• Last season, Pearl’s Tigers set an SEC record for three-pointers in a season with 454, which is also second in NCAA history. This season’s team is much more reliant on scoring near the basket. The 2018-19 Final Four squad scored 42.7 percent of its points on treys. The current group is scoring 32.5 percent of its points on three balls.
• Senior Anfernee McLemore’s comeback from a potentially career-ending injury continues to go well. With three blocks in Auburn’s victory over Saint Louis on Saturday the left-hander has 169 for his career, one shy of No. 4 in AU history behind his former teammate, Horace Spencer, who is playing professionally in Argentina.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter