Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl took the program to its first Final Four in 2019 in his fifth season and won the Tigers’ first SEC title since 1999 in 2018.
On Monday morning when the Associated Press poll comes out, Pearl could have Auburn the No. 1 team in the nation for the first time in school history.
Auburn (16-1, 5-0 SEC) is currently No. 4 and leads the nation in wins. It sits atop the SEC and has won 13 in a row. The Tigers won two road games last week, 81-77 at No. 24 Alabama and 80-71 at Ole Miss.
No. 1 Baylor (15-2) will drop as it became the first AP No. 1 to lose two straight home games in a week. It fell 61-54 to Oklahoma State on Saturday and 65-62 to Texas Tech on Tuesday. No. 3 UCLA (11-2) also lost to Oregon 84-81 in overtime last week.
No. 2 Gonzaga (14-2) will be Auburn’s poll competition Monday, as it won both of its games last week — 110-84 over Brigham Young and 115-83 at Santa Clara.
“It is historic, and it does mean something,” Pearl said after the win over Ole Miss, which had led the Tigers by as much as 14. “That’ll be a proud moment for Auburn, period, our university and our athletic department. I understand it doesn’t mean much right now, but it still makes a very strong statement.”
Auburn’s highest previous ranking was No. 2 on Feb. 22. 1999, under coach Cliff Ellis. It was also ranked No. 2 on Nov. 22, 1999, and on Feb. 16, 1959.
Auburn hosts last place Georgia (5-12, 0-4 SEC) at 9 p.m. eastern on Wednesday on ESPNU and hosts Kentucky at 1:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS.
Three of the other five SEC teams ranked in the AP poll lost on Saturday. No. 12 LSU (15-2, 3-2) lost at home 65-58 to Arkansas (12-5, 2-3) after giving up a 17-2 run in the final minutes. No. 22 Tennessee (11-5, 2-3) was blown out 107-79 at No. 18 Kentucky (14-3, 4-1) on the same day former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall passed away at 93. Kentucky coach John Calipari opened the game in a 1-3-1 defense, a Hall favorite.
And No. 24 Alabama (11-6, 2-3) lost 78-76 at Mississippi State in front of 8,090 at Humphrey Coliseum for its third straight defeat. Mississippi State celebrated as if it had won the SEC.
“Slowly, it’s happening, and I feel like we have a really good chance to be a really good team,” State forward Cameron Matthews said.
“We felt the energy from the crowd,” said guard Iverson Molinar, who scored 24 points.
“It was a great feeling,” coach Ben Howland said. “Our team was really fired up after the game. We put in a lot of time and preparation. I’m just so proud of them and happy for them.”
In other games Saturday, Texas A&M (15-2, 4-0) won its eighth straight with a 67-64 victory at Missouri (7-9, 1-3), Vanderbilt (10-6, 2-2) won 73-66 at Georgia as the Bulldogs celebrated the football national championship outside, and Florida (10-6, 1-3) won 71-63 at South Carolina (10-6, 1-3).
THIS WEEK’S GAMES (All times eastern)
South Carolina at Arkansas, 7 p.m., SEC Network; Missouri at Ole Miss, 7 p.m., ESPNU; Tennessee at Vanderbilt, 9 p.m., SEC Network.
Mississippi State at Florida, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network; LSU at Alabama, 7 p.m., ESPN2; Kentucky at Texas A&M, 8:30 p.m., SEC Network; Georgia at Auburn, 9 p.m., ESPNU.
Vanderbilt at Florida, 1 p.m., SEC Network; Kentucky at Auburn, 1 p.m., CBS; Georgia at South Carolina, 3:30 p.m., SEC Network; Ole Miss at Mississippi State, 4 p.m., TBA; LSU at Tennessee, 6 p.m., ESPN; Missouri at Alabama, 6 p.m., SEC Network; Texas A&M at Arkansas, 8:30 p.m., SEC Network.