Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers have not met many of their expectations this season. They didn’t win the SEC regular-season championship. They aren’t likely to get a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. They didn’t get a double-bye into the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, an event which has historically been a house of horrors for Auburn basketball.
Yet, even in a season when Auburn went through profound struggles and didn’t live up to every hope or aspiration, the Tigers have still achieved a lot of milestones. One more milestone was notched on Saturday in Nashville, where the Tigers made the SEC Tournament final for the first time since 1999 with a 65-62 win over the Florida Gators.
That 1999 Auburn team, coached by Cliff Ellis, was a No. 1 seed. Auburn had hoped to forge a regular season on par with its predecessor 20 years ago, but the Tigers were at least able to match that team’s SEC Tournament performance.
Head coach Bruce Pearl is aware of the story he is trying to write at Auburn.
“There’s a difference between having a top-25 team and having a top-25 program,” Pearl said. “The more we win, the more we have both.”
Auburn swept Alabama and Georgia in basketball this season, a very rare event. The Tigers will make NCAA Tournament appearances in consecutive seasons. They will be a higher seed in the round of 64 and will have a great chance to win NCAA Tournament games in consecutive seasons.
Auburn’s last — and only — SEC Tournament championship was in 1985. The Tigers will have a chance to win title No. 2 on Sunday against the Tennessee Volunteers, who defeated the Kentucky Wildcats.
Auburn and Tennessee shared the 2018 SEC regular-season title. Now they will meet to decide the 2019 SEC Tournament champion.
The road to this championship game for Auburn was hardly traditional or smooth, but Bruce Pearl and his players got there in the end. A win will certainly enable the Tigers to come closer to the top-25 status their head coach wants them to attain.
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