SEC Tournament Bracket is Set – Who Will Be Auburn’s First Opponent?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

SEC Tournament Bracket is Set – Who Will Be Auburn’s First Opponent?

 Auburn did exactly what it needed to do Saturday to win the SEC Regular Season Championship. The Tigers knocked off South Carolina inside of Auburn Arena, finishing up what has essentially been a percale season. After Anfernee McLemore experienced a season ending injury in Auburn’s first game against Carolina in Columbia Auburn lost three of four games without him and things seemed to look bleak for the Tigers.
It wasn’t just McLemore’s shot blocking, timely three pointers, or above-the-rim stuffs that were hurting Auburn. It was simply poor play everywhere else. The three losses, which included back-to-back losses allowed Tennessee to climb back into the SEC race after Auburn had dominated the standings all year.
By the time Saturday’s contests rolled around, Auburn needed a Volunteer loss on top of a win just to claim sole ownership. Again, no one is debating just how awesome this season has been, especially with the FBI probe that cost Chuck Person his job and likely will land him in jail, but it also cost Auburn two starters before the first tip of the year ever took place. It was a totally Auburn thing to have such a season and still not end up as sole owners of the SEC championship. It felt a lot like football season. Auburn knocked off their two biggest rivals, but had no answers down the stretch and eventually those two teams played for a national title.
There’s still a lot of basketball left to play, but Auburn’s wilting down the stretch not only caused them to share the SEC crown, it also has them taking on one of two teams in the winner of the Texas A&M Aggies or the Alabama Crimson Tide. Of course it has nothing to do with Auburn’s record, just a bad draw. The winner of this game gets the Kentucky Wildcats, assuming the ‘Cats can avoid a one-and-done showing. Meanwhile, Tennessee in the two hole gets the winner of the LSU/Mississippi State game with that winner getting Florida. Most SEC basketball fans would much rather be playing in  Tennessee’s bracket. 
That isn’t to say that the Aggies and the Tide are the best teams in the SEC. It’s just the two teams that own two of the seven total losses the Tigers accumulated in the 2017-2018 season. There also the two teams that absolutely dominated Auburn and brought out the worst in the Tigers. These two teams just played Saturday afternoon with Alabama completing a losing season and elevating Texas A&M to a winning SEC record. The Aggies aren’t nearly as talented as the Tide but they play well on the inside where Auburn has been beyond suspect even with McLemore. The Tide, on the other hand, are now fighting just to make the NCAA tournament and need at least one win to avoid the NIT.
The Tide will look to Colin Sexton, who really controls Alabama’s future. Bama has been abyssal down the stretch and some have speculated that Sexton is already laying low in preparation for the draft. It is possible that he may not play in the NIT, but almost certainly would want to show out in the NCAA tournament to improve his draft stock. So he may elevate his game now that the day-to-day grind of the SEC schedule is done. Additionally, Avery Johnson is facing down the barrel of a losing SEC season. A loss in the first game and an NIT bid might be tough for Alabama fans to swallow.
Auburn has to start hot in the tournament especially since the Tigers have played from behind in almost every game since McLemore left. And Bryce Brown and Auburn’s sharp shooters have been awful in the first half in the last few games, so getting off to a quick start is imperative.
What the Tigers need is to follow Chuma Okeke’s example. He was the lynchpin in  Saturday’s SEC Championship win and his hustle and energy showed everywhere on the court. Perhaps Bruce Pearl’s change in strategy to allow him to play early, and to play often was the key. Okeke has been first off the bench most of the season despite being perhaps the most versatile player on the floor. He can’t be treated as a freshman any longer and his abilities to spread the floor only helps the Tigers. Expect him to be showcased on Saturday at noon as the Tigers take on the winners of the Tide/Aggies contest.
The post SEC Tournament Bracket is Set – Who Will Be Auburn’s First Opponent? appeared first on Track 'Em Tigers, Auburn's oldest and most read independent blog.

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