Danjel Purifoy

Although it is surprising based on preseason expectations, the Auburn basketball Tigers are off to one of the best starts in program history despite having to replace four of last season’s five starters.

Following a win at Mississippi State in the 2020 SEC opener, the Tigers remained unbeaten and moved up to No. 5 in the AP and coaches Top 25 polls, Auburn’s highest ranking in two decades. The last time the Tigers were ranked higher was at No. 2 in January of 2000.

Auburn’s start is impressive under any circumstances, but it is especially noteworthy for a group that lost its top three scorers, its leading rebounder and its assists leader. So how is Coach Bruce Pearl’s team racking up victories this season?

First, and foremost, the effort stands out at both ends of the court. This group isn’t as skilled or as polished offensively as the 2018-19 Tigers were, but without a doubt this bunch is very athletic and very scrappy. Combine that with a deep bench and five talented and experienced seniors, who have big-game experience and willingness to play defense, and this team has been difficult to handle.

Give the fans an assist for making Auburn Arena a terrific homecourt venue, even during the December break when the students weren’t on campus.

Add to the equation that Pearl and his staff are constantly reminding a talented group of players that they are a work in progress and they need to improve. Put it all together and you have a formula that has helped make this another Auburn team worthy of respect.

Gus Malzahn and the football program missed a golden opportunity to gain more respect and build on the momentum from its exciting Iron Bowl victory by finishing the season with an uninspired showing at the Outback Bowl.

Minnesota performed well and deserved to win, but in my opinion the Tigers played their worst game of the season in Tampa. If they had come through with just an average performance by their standards, the Tigers would have picked up their 10th win and avoided a lot of grumbling from their fanbase.

Fans of another Auburn sport are closing in on the start of what looks to be a promising season. Coach Butch Thompson’s baseball team looks to be loaded with pitching and returns many of the key players from last year’s group that advanced to the College World Series. Opening day is Feb. 14th at Plainsman Park, where there should be a lot of games worth watching this year, especially when SEC play starts.

The home-opener for another AU team is set for 8 p.m. on Friday as the gymnastics Tigers open their SEC schedule with a dual meet vs. Alabama. The Tigers have drawn big crowds to home matches in recent years and this week’s competition will likely follow suit.

 

Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter

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