Both the Auburn men’s and women’s basketball teams are in good position to earn bids to their respective NCAA Tournaments, but each has work to do. A collapse down the stretch by either group could have them on the outside looking in at this year’s Big Dance.
With both teams near the end of the regular season schedules, something they have in common is that they play best when strong defensive pressure is a big part of their offensive success.
The two games last weekend are prime examples of that. Bruce Pearl’s team did not have a good shooting performance at Nashville, but outscored the Commodores 17-0 in the points off of turnovers category to win by 11 points at Memorial Gym, which has been a nightmare venue for Auburn men’s teams the past two decades.
In their previous game Coach Flo’s squad completed the women’s basketball regular season sweep of archrival Alabama with a superb defensive effort that featured the Tigers out-scoring the Tide 26-9 in points off of turnovers. Combine that with Auburn shooting very well from three-point range and at the free throw line, and it explains a dominating 77-38 victory, the largest for the Auburn women vs. Alabama since the 1980s.
It won’t be easy because both the women and men have challenging games left before beginning play in their SEC Tournaments, but as long as each stays on the road and out of the ditch on their drives to postseason, we should see them participating in the 2019 edition of college basketball’s March Madness.
From the notebook:
• Adding offensive linemen is a huge priority for the next AU football signee class so it is not surprising that the first two verbal commitments after the 2019 signing day came from offensive tackles. The first on board was Avery Jernigan, a 6-3, 278 junior at Pierce County High in Blakshear, Ga. The second came from Jonathan Buskey, a 6-7, 320-pounder from Mobile. He is attending Coffeyville Community College in Kansas where he will play this fall as a redshirt sophomore before transferring to Auburn.
• Not enough punch at the plate was a major issue for the Auburn softball team last season. In year two under Coach Mickey Dean, the Tigers are showing signs of progress. In 10 games, Auburn players have smashed 18 home runs. Last season they managed just 43 in 58 games.
Going into this weekend’s Tiger Invitational, the team features a robust .365 batting average with a .639 slugging percentage. Last year the Tigers finished with a .281 batting average and a .426 slugging percentage.
• Auburn’s gymnasts continue their strong push to be a high seed for an NCAA regional after producing another season high score of 197.100 in a victory over Arkansas in front of another sellout crowd at Auburn Arena. This group has a real opportunity to be one of the top teams in the program’s history.
• Last, but not least, the No. 1 ranked Auburn equestrian team continues to look like the favorite to defend its 2018 national championship. The latest test resulted in a 14-6 victory on the road vs. No. 3 ranked South Carolina. Coach Greg Williams told me this year’s team was going to be good and it has lived up to that billing.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter