When people think of the SEC, they usually think of college football or Kentucky basketball. However, thanks to a recent bump in the coaching ranks and grabbing some incredible recruits, the conference as a whole is starting to gain national exposure for basketball, too.
The coach that is turning the program around the most is none other than Bruce Pearl and Auburn. Now, Pearl isn’t out of his element coaching at a football-first school in the SEC, after spending six years at Tennessee before a recruiting visit mishap with Aaron Craft cost him his job. He took the Volunteers to the NCAA Tournament during each of those six years and got to an Elite Eight and two Sweet 16’s. He knows how to win in this conference.
Well, don’t look now, but Pearl is starting to make Auburn into the same mold as his Tennessee teams. His first recruiting class was ranked 30th nationally by 247Sports (and this was a lot of late recruiting). He followed it up with the 19th overall class for this coming season. Pearl is already recruiting for the class of 2017 and has two five-star commitments in Mustapha Huron and Austin Wiley. While it’s early, the Tigers currently have the second-best class for 2017, out-recruiting Coach Cal and Kentucky at this moment.
Pearl made an interesting comment to CBSSports.com the other day. He said “I’m just trying to look at our program and say, with the exception of Kentucky in the SEC, ‘Why not us?’ Who else is so far ahead of us that we can’t be the second-best program in the SEC? I felt that way at Tennessee. Now I feel that way at Auburn.”
It’s an interesting argument to battle for second place, but the fact of reality is that’s how the SEC currently is. Pearl was that way at Tennessee, going up against Florida during its back-to-back title years and then in the early years of Calipari at Kentucky. He knows you still can have a ton of success if you finish second in the SEC, just look at his runs to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight as prime examples.
The one thing many people are curious about and you can see it asked on any message board. Will Pearl leave for a better job? It’s hard to imagine him leaving Auburn as he turns 56 during this season and knows the conference. Auburn also is only 100 miles from Atlanta, which is filled with top-notch recruits and does have a newer facility that can attract said recruits.
It’s obviously good for the conference for other schools to start challenging Kentucky and there’s no better team than Auburn. There is a decent basketball history with the Tigers, most notably Charles Barkley being an alum of the program. However, Calipari and Pearl are the coaches with the most personality and a rivalry that is both fun and competitive from the outside. The way Pearl is recruiting and his quotes, there’s no reason to doubt he’s going to make Auburn into a NCAA Tournament team soon.
The only question is, how will the rest of the conference respond?