Auburn Basketball: How Auburn Can Make the NCAA Tournament
Here we take a look at Auburn basketball and how they might be able to squeeze into the NCAA tournament following recently struggles.
With the stretch run of the 2016-17 basketball season under way, Auburn basketball currently sits at 15-8 overall and 4-6 in the Southeastern Conference — and on the outside when it comes to the Big Dance, also known as what every basketball team dreams about at the beginning of the season.
Auburn’s RPI is currently No. 63, and with the NCAA tournament taking 68 teams, is likely not to make the tournament if it stays in that place. The tournament always takes teams that win their conference championship ranked much lower.
But there’s a chance. Auburn has eight more regular season games, and if it goes 5-3 in those games, it will finish the regular season at 20-11. A couple of wins — and one loss — in the SEC tournament would put Auburn at 22-12, which might be good enough for a bid if other things go its way.
Here’s three things we think Auburn needs to do to finish the season strong and earn a bid, its first since 2003 when it beat No. 2 seed Wake Forest to make the Sweet 16 before falling to Syracuse by a point.
Beat Florida at home on Feb. 14
The Gators are the only ranked team remaining on Auburn’s regular season, and a win against them would do wonders for its RPI ranking. Florida is 18-5, and it has an RPI of No. 14 after defeating Kentucky this weekend.
A loss against the Gators won’t doom the Tigers to the NIT tournament. In fact, the Tigers could go 7-1 the reason of the season — with the one loss to Florida — and finish 22-9, which would impress the selection committee. But a victory against Florida would raise a lot of eyebrows. Auburn needs a signature win this season, and this could be it.
Right now, Auburn’s best wins are against Connecticut, Oklahoma and Texas Tech, teams that traditionally make the dance. It’s got no wins against anyone in the RPI top 50. The last-second loss to Boston College, which is 9-15 and has a current RPI of 187, also hurts.
Get Austin Wiley back in the groove
The two Auburn games this week — at home vs. Mississippi State and away at Ole Miss — are must wins. And to win both of those games, Auburn needs to get freshman center Austin Wiley back involved in the offense.
Wiley, after breaking out with 25 points in the victory against TCU, has had a total of four shots from the field in the last two games. Not four shots each game, four shots in total — two shots against Alabama and two shots against Tennessee. During those two games, he’s also made three of just nine free throws.
The freshman’s game is still developing, and he’ll have ups and downs. His teammates have at times tried too hard to get him the ball, which means that he gets frustrated when he’s not involved. The Bulldogs and Rebels are two games in which Wiley can use his 6-foot-11, 250-pound size to his advantage.
Maintain some consistency
When Auburn hits shots early in the game, particularly from behind the three-point line, its confidence rises. We saw that in the 82-77 victory against Alabama on Saturday.
But when the Tigers get behind and start pressing, they take bad shots. We saw that in the 87-77 loss against Tennessee when Auburn got behind early and could never get within 10.
This team needs to keep its composure when things go wrong. And the wild swings in performance need to stop. Perhaps the win against ‘Bama — when five different Tigers scored between 12 and 15 points — is a sign that the team can get a strong performance from three or four players each game and not have to rely on Mustapha Heron or Austin Wiley to score when the team gets behind.
Prediction: Auburn does hit the 20-win mark for the 2016-17 season, but the weak SEC hurts its chances for the NCAA, and Auburn makes a deep run in the NIT Tournament, making expectations for 2017-18 no less than a ticket to the Big Dance.
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