No. 17 Auburn looks to avoid stumble at Tennessee
Auburn's loss to Texas A&M on Wednesday not only impacted the Tigers' seeding for next week's Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville, Tenn., but also it created the opportunity for as many as five teams to finish tied for second behind Kentucky in the final regular-season standings.
The No. 17 (for now) Tigers (24-6, 11-6 SEC) currently are tied with LSU and Florida for the No. 2 spot in the SEC standings as they head into their Saturday matchup at Tennessee, while Mississippi State and South Carolina are right behind with 10-7 league marks.
None are scheduled to meet this weekend. If Auburn, LSU (home vs. Georgia), and Florida (home vs. Kentucky) all lose Saturday and Mississippi State (home vs. Ole Miss) and South Carolina (at Vanderbilt) both win, it creates a five-team logjam for second.
The first tiebreaker to determine seedings is head-to-head competition. In the case of a multi-team deadlock, the best winning percentage of the games played among the teams involved sets the seedings, a process that is somewhat muddled by the league's unbalanced schedule.
Auburn holds the tiebreaker with LSU but not Florida, having beaten LSU but lost to the Gators, and also has the edge in any multi-team tie that does not involve the Gators.
Only one thing is certain, and that is because of its wins over LSU, Mississippi State, and South Carolina, Auburn is assured of a top-four finish in the standings. That would earn the Tigers a double bye into the quarterfinals of the conference tourney.
For now, though, the key for the Tigers is to regain the form they displayed at the start of the season when they won their first 15 games and climbed to as high as No. 5 in the Associated Press poll. Wednesday's 78-75 loss to Texas A&M, which ended their home winning streak at 19 games, was the fourth for the Tigers in their last six outings.
"We've just got to play better," Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. "Our biggest thing is to just try to play better."
The Tigers won the first meeting with the Volunteers 73-66 on Feb. 22 but had to rally from a 17-point second-half deficit to do so. The Volunteers (17-13, 9-8 SEC) have won their last two games, a 63-58 victory over Florida at home and an 81-73 stunner over Kentucky in Lexington.
Senior John Fulkerson scored 49 points in the wins with a career-high 27 against Kentucky, and Josiah-Jordan James, who missed four games in early February with a back issue, handed out 11 assists with a season-high six against Florida.
"He's getting healthy for the first time," Vols coach Rick Barnes said of the freshman guard. "You know he's fought that all year, you guys know that, but I do think that he feels the best he's felt probably since July."
Auburn guard Samir Doughty understands the potential impact of the outing.
"Every game is going to important," he said, "especially against Tennessee, who had us down 17 last time at our home."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 6, 2020