Auburn will carry a No. 8 national ranking into its final game of 2019 Sunday afternoon when it hosts Lipscomb, but first-year Bisons coach Lennie Acuff isn’t sure that gives the Tigers the respect they deserve.
“They’re probably playing better than anybody in the country right now,” Acuff told reporters this week.
Indeed, Auburn (11-0) is off to its best start since the 1998-99 Tigers opened the season 17-0 before losing at Kentucky. It is their fourth-best start ever, three wins from matching the 14-0 start of the 1927-28 club. The Tigers’ best start was 19-0 in 1958-59.
Auburn’s most recent win, a 74-51 thumping of Lehigh on Dec. 21, was the Tigers’ 23rd victory in their last 24 games dating back to last season’s Final Four run.
“We’re not focusing on our record. We’re not focusing on our ranking,” senior guard Samir Doughty told the media. “We’re just focusing on our next opponent.”
Lipscomb came into this season off a successful three-year run that included a runner-up finish in the 2018-19 National Invitation Tournament and a combined 72-31 win-loss record. But the Bisons (5-7) lost 74 percent of their point production from last season’s 29-8 team and have been up and down under Acuff, who took over after Casey Alexander moved to nearby Belmont.
The Bisons can be effective when their long-range shooting is on. They were 20 of 45 (44.4 percent) from 3-point range in wins over Trevecca Nazarene and Tennessee Tech earlier this month.
“When we do that, we can play with a lot of people,” Acuff said.
But they were only 11 of 43 (25.6 percent) in the two losses to Xavier and Belmont that preceded those wins. They were a respectable 10 of 27 (37.0 percent) in an 86-63 loss at Vermont last week.
Auburn has held its opponents to just 29.4 percent 3-point shooting for the season. The Tigers held Lehigh to 35.8 percent shooting overall and only 18.2 percent on 3-pointers.
“Our coaches do an outstanding job with game planning,” coach Bruce Pearl said of his team’s defensive play. “We’ve got a pretty good ability to affect the outcome of games.”
The offense, he said, has not been as cohesive, which is probably Pearl’s main concern as the Tigers close in on their SEC opener next week at Mississippi State.
“I told our guys that the champion of our conference this year is going to be the team that gets up for every night, defends every night, gets excited to play every night, because there is so much parity,” Pearl said. “There’s nobody that’s that much better than anybody else.
“The reason that we’re undefeated for the most part is we’ve played with pretty good effort and energy. We’ve got to shoot it better and execute better. We’ve got to prepare better.”
–Field Level Media