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Top spot familiar for Pearl

by Tom Murphy | January 25, 2022 at 2:36 a.m.

FROM TOP TO BOTTOM

RANK;LAST WEEK;NET;TEAM (RECORDS);COMMENT

1;1;5;Auburn (18-1, 7-0);15 straight wins after 80-71 W vs. UK

2;4;9;Kentucky (15-4, 5-2);Improved 2 spots in NET after 1-1 week

3;7;11;Tennessee (13-5, 4-3);Vols host Florida, travel to Texas

4;5;;20;Alabama (13-6, 4-3);Allowing 74.2 ppg., 13th in the SEC

5;3;61;Texas A&M (15-4, 4-2);Gritty losses vs. UK and Hogs

6;4;10;LSU (15-4, 3-4);Tigers scuffling during 3-game skid

7;6;45; Miss. State (13-5, 4-2);Back in the challenge at Texas Tech

8;8;55;Arkansas (14-5, 4-3);Drawing FTAs like nobody's business

9;9;34;Florida (12-6, 3-3);Rebounding from 0-3 league start

10;13;167;Missouri (8-10, 2-4);Week of opportunity: Auburn, at Iowa St.

11;10;86;Vanderbilt (10-8, 2-4);Lack of depth since W at Ark.

12;12;108;South Carolina (11-7, 2-4);Bryant, Cousinard broke slumps

13;11;134;Ole Miss (9-9, 1-5);Took 4-game skid into Monday's game

14;14;232;Georgia (5-14, 0-6);Are there any wins on the horizon?

The NCAA NET Rankings, an acronym for NCAA Evaluation Tool, factor in game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency and the quality of wins and losses.

Game of the week

Texas A&M at LSU, 8 p.m. Wednesday (SECN)

The Aggies and Tigers take their SEC West rivalry to the hard court. Both teams got off to hot starts in conference play, but they both went 0-2 last week.

QUOTEBOOK

"Look at our students. Look at our players. That's what it's all about right there. What I'm so excited about is I know this happens at North Carolina. I know it happens at Kansas and other places. This is happening in Auburn, Alabama. We're a football school. We're also an everything school." -- Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl to CBS moments after the Tigers' 80-71 win over Kentucky

"Well, needed that win. We didn't play very well to start the game, but we did show some resilience and fight to figure out a way to fight back." -- Alabama Coach Nate Oats after the Tide's come-from-behind win over Missouri

By the numbers

1

Undefeated team in SEC play and historic first-time AP rank for Auburn

7

Wins by SEC home teams on Saturday, the first such Saturday home sweep in conference play this year

8

Number of current SEC programs who have been No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25

24

Consecutive points by South Carolina in 7 minutes to turn a 60-53 deficit into a rout in an 83-66 win over Georgia

--------------------------------

FAYETTEVILLE -- Coach Bruce Pearl has taken the Auburn Tigers into uncharted territory once again.

Three years after the Pearl steered Auburn to its first Final Four, the Tigers have landed atop The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time.

Auburn won its 15th consecutive game on Saturday, an 80-71 home decision against Kentucky that swayed enough voters for the Tigers to swap spots with No. 2 Gonzaga, which won its lone game last week, 78-62 over San Francisco.

The teams have played only one common opponent: Alabama. The Bulldogs (15-2) lost 91-82 to the then-No. 16 Crimson Tide on Dec. 4 in Seattle. Auburn beat then-No. 24 Alabama 81-77 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Jan. 11.

"The No. 1 ranking matters because it's historical," Pearl said. "I'm very happy for Auburn. I'm very happy for my coaches and our players to have been able to achieve that. That said, we've got a lot of work to do."

After the win over Kentucky, Pearl said the atmosphere at Auburn Arena that day rivaled that of blue blood basketball programs like North Carolina and Kansas.

"We were good enough today to beat a really good team that could get to the Final Four," Pearl said on Saturday. "We've got work to do. There's a big price on our head. We've got to keep getting better, keep staying humble and hungry."

Auburn, which has beaten Kentucky three consecutive games at Auburn Arena, improved its record against the Wildcats to 18-31 at home and 23-96 overall.

Pearl has now led three programs to No. 1 rankings: Southern Indiana on the Division II level in 1997, Tennessee in 2008, and Auburn this week. He joined Frank McGuire (St. John's, North Carolina, South Carolina) and current Kentucky Coach John Calipari (UMass, Memphis, Kentucky) as the only coaches to do that.

The Tigers will open defense of their No. 1 ranking at 7:30 tonight against Missouri at Mizzou Arena in Columbia, Mo.

8 to the top

Auburn became the eighth different SEC program to ascend to the No. 1 ranking on Monday.

The Tigers joined Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee in achieving the feat. Missouri and South Carolina reached No. 1 while competing in the Big Eight and the Atlantic Coast Conference, respectively.

Hot line

Several SEC teams had incendiary free-throw shooting halves on Saturday.

Texas A&M led the way with its 11-of-11 shooting from the line in the second half and overtime of its 76-73 loss at Arkansas. The Aggies shot a season-best 19 of 20 (95%) for the game.

Georgia hit 21 of its 22 (95.5%) free throws in the first half to take a 42-36 lead at South Carolina. The Bulldogs finished 25 of 30 (83.3%) in their 83-66 loss.

Auburn made 21 of 23 (91.3) free throws in the second half of its 80-71 home win over Kentucky.

Arkansas made 14 of 14 free throws in the second half against Texas A&M but just 4 of 7 in overtime.

The Razorbacks, who are No. 2 nationally with 447 free throws attempted and No. 1 in free throws made (332), lead the SEC with 73.7% free throw shooting. Texas A&M is last at 62.9%.

Iona leads the nation with 456 free throws taken.

Challenge time

The Big 12 will take a 44-35 advantage into the annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday, highlighted by No. 1 Auburn hosting Oklahoma and No. 5 Kansas hosting No. 12 Kentucky.

Other games involving ranked teams: No. 4 Baylor at Alabama, Mississippi State at No. 13 Texas Tech, No. 18 Tennessee at Texas, No. 19 LSU at TCU and Missouri at No. 23 Iowa State.

The Big 12 won each of the first three challenges, which started in 2014, but the SEC holds a 2-1-2 record in the last five. The SEC won 5-4 last year, an uneven number of games because the Texas at Kentucky matchup was canceled due to covid-19 issues for the Wildcats.

Defending NCAA champion Baylor has the best record in the challenge at 7-1, followed by Oklahoma (6-2) and Oklahoma State (6-2).

The best records for SEC teams are held by Tennessee (5-2) and Florida (5-3). The Gators are the only SEC team to play in the challenge every year, though Kentucky has been in all seven prior to last year's cancellation.

The worst record in the challenge belongs to Ole Miss (0-6), which hosts Kansas State on Saturday, with South Carolina (1-3) and Vanderbilt (2-4) not far behind. West Virginia (2-6), which Arkansas (3-4) will host on Saturday, is the only Big 12 team with less than three wins.

The four SEC teams not involved in the challenge will play a doubleheader on the SEC Network. Georgia will travel to Vanderbilt for a 5 p.m. game, then Texas A&M will host South Carolina at 7:30 p.m.

Top players

Arkansas forward Jaylin Williams, Auburn center Walker Kessler and forward Jabari Smith were named SEC players of the week by the league office on Monday.

Williams, who averaged 16.5 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 steals in wins over South Carolina and Texas A&M, shared SEC Player of the Week honors with Kessler. The 7-1 Kessler averaged 17 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4 blocks in wins over Georgia and No. 12 Kentucky.

Smith, a 6-10, 220-pounder from Tyrone, Ga., averaged 13 points, 7 rebounds and 2.5 assists to earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors. Smith extended his team-high streak of double-figure scoring to 16 games with 14 points and 7 rebounds in the Tigers' 80-71 win over Kentucky at Auburn Arena on Saturday.

Aiming for 800

Kentucky Coach John Calipari will take his second shot at career win No. 800 when the Wildcats host Mississippi State at 8 tonight at Rupp Arena.

Calipari lost in his first shot at the milestone win when Kentucky failed to hold a 33-29 halftime lead at then-No. 2 Auburn in Saturday's 80-71 loss.

Calipari has an all-time on-court record of 799-237 in stints at UMass (1988-96), Memphis (2000-09) and Kentucky (2009-present).

3-game weeks

Florida and Ole Miss will both have three-game weeks after their SEC opener on Dec. 29 was postponed and rescheduled for Monday in Oxford, Miss.

The Gators will travel again on Wednesday to face surging Tennessee before returning to the O-Dome to host Oklahoma State in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge at 3 p.m. Saturday. Covid-19 issues within the Florida program caused the initial postponement.

The Rebels have a rare three-game home stand this week, as they host Arkansas on Wednesday and Kansas State on Saturday at the Pavilion.

Sweeps and splits

There have been no sweeps among SEC teams who have played twice this season in the early segment of league play.

All four double meetings have resulted in splits.

Arkansas and Texas A&M took turns winning on their home courts, with the Razorbacks taking a 76-73 win in overtime on Saturday to gain the split.

Alabama and Missouri each won at home, with the Tigers scoring a 92-86 win in Columbia, Mo., and the Tide avenging that loss with an 86-76 victory on Saturday.

Ole Miss and Mississippi State have already played twice, with the Rebels prevailing 82-72 at home and the Bulldogs turning it around for a 78-60 decision on Saturday in Starkville, Miss.

LSU downed Tennessee 79-67 on Jan. 8 in Baton Rouge and the Volunteers repaid the loss with a 64-50 triumph on Saturday.

South Carolina will have a shot at the league's first sweep on Wednesday when the Gamecocks entertain Vanderbilt at Colonial Life Arena. South Carolina won a 72-70 decision at Vandy's Memorial Gym on Jan. 8.

Wade worked up

LSU Coach Will Wade's agitation was clear following the Tigers' 70-67 loss at Alabama last Wednesday. Asked about a controversial non-goaltending call on his postgame video conference, Wade said loudly, "You think it looked like that? You think? It was pinned on the backboard. It didn't look like it. It was."

Rocking back and forth in a desk chair, Wade explained his rationale for drawing a technical foul in that game.

"I told our guys I got the technical because I've got to have their back. We can't keep having this happen. At some point I've got to stand up and have their back. ... I'm proud as hell of them. I've got to stand up for them. We can't just sit down and keep taking it."

15 and 15

Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe, who averages 16.1 points and an NCAA-best 14.8 rebounds, is aiming to become the first Division I player to average 15 points and 15 rebounds per game since Drake's Lewis Lloyd and Alcorn State's Larry Smith both accomplished the feat during the 1979-80 season.

Tshiebwe was named a first-team Midseason All-America by The Sporting News last week along with Michigan State's James Akinjo, Duke's Paolo Banchero, Illinois' Kofi Cockburn and Wisconsin's Johnny Davis.

Auburn freshman Jabari Smith was named to the publication's second team along with Kansas' Ochai Agbaji, Arizona's Benedict Mathurin, Iowa's Keegan Murray and Gonzaga's Drew Timme.

Packed house

Texas A&M packed a school-record 14,036 fans into Reed Arena last Wednesday to watch the Aggies' 64-58 loss to No. 12 Kentucky.

The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak for the Aggies.

Print Headline: Top spot familiar for Pearl

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