Auburn Faces Must Win Against Tennessee

Bruce Pearl during the game between George Mason University and the #15 Auburn Tigers at Neville Arena in Auburn, AL on Wednesday, Oct 26, 2022. Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers

The Auburn Tigers find themselves in a precarious position that they did not expect to be in at the start of the year as we head into the final Saturday of the regular season. The NCAA Tournament fate of Bruce Pearl’s squad hangs in the balance, with the Tigers having lost 8 of their last 11 games and sitting at a record of 2-8 in Quad 1 matchups on the season. To put it simply, the 19-11 (9-8 in the SEC) Tigers do not exactly have a great NCAA Tournament resume, and need to finish their season on a high note.

Make no mistake, Auburn is not a bad team by any means, but have struggled to close out games all year, with the latest collapse against Alabama being the best example yet. There have been opportunities all season long for the Tigers to not be sitting in the position they are in now, but their inability to close teams out has come back to bite them for the entire season.

The way the schedule worked out, Auburn ended the regular season with three of their toughest games, but losing a beyond winnable road game to Vanderbilt before this stretch put them in a position where they really had to win at least one of the final three. Kentucky beat them like a drum in Lexington, they blew it in Tuscaloosa, and now the Volunteers head to Auburn in a game the Tigers really must win to avoid the reality of having to make an SEC Tournament run to get in the big dance.

The previous matchup in Knoxville was a rock fight, with Tennessee winning 46-43 and the game ending on a controversial non-call on a Wendell Green game-tying 3-point attempt. An unfortunate reality that will work to Auburn’s benefit this time around is that arguably Tennessee’s best player, PG Zakai Zeigler, tore his ACL against Arkansas last week and will obviously not play against Auburn.

Auburn has one last chance before the SEC Tournament to show why they clearly deserve a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Bruce Pearl and his team must not let it slip through their fingers, because they will not have an opportunity like this again.