When the story broke about the wind-ranging FBI investigation in college basketball in October, Auburn was one of several NCAA schools being looked at for colluding with shoe companies who were paying blue-chip players to sign with schools under their contracts. That investigation has already cost Auburn an assistant coach, (Chuck Person) and two players. You have to understand that former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl is now at Auburn and is still a part of that ongoing investigation. That's unfortunate for Coach Pearl because he has already been in trouble with the NCAA a few years ago, costing him his job at Tennessee.
That turmoil hasn't really sunk in on the Tigers because they are 17-2 and ranked in the top-25. Auburn had a nation's best 14 game win streak snapped this past weekend. Still, the Tigers are just one win away from equaling last year's total of 18 wins, and they're doing it with one of the most undersized teams in the nation.
Auburn is currently ranked 305th of 351 Division One teams in average height which is usually a measuring stick for a team's success. Obviously that's not true in the Tiger's case.
"You can't just sit back and wait for teams to fail, " Pearl said following a Tiger victory this season. "You have to force the issue. You have to make plays offensively and defensively and that's what this team is doing."
The SEC media wasn't sold on Auburn in the pre-season as they were picked ninth in the polls. One guy even predicted the Tigers to finish 4-14 in league play. So far, that prediction has been a rallying cry around the program. These current Tigers have improved and progressed past all expectations. Last season in winning 18 games, the top four scorers were all freshmen. This season those freshmen are all sophomores, and even though Auburn is ranked in the top twenty in scoring offense nationally, not a single Tiger is among the top 100 scorers. If this team can continue to improve and progress, it will mean a better seeding for the Big Dance in March. Right now only a complete collapse over the next thirteen games or a major move in that FBI investigation will keep Auburn out of the NCAA Tournament.
That FBI investigation isn't going away. It has already cost Louisville's Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino his job as well as several other assistant coaches. Its scope is wide-ranging and while Bruce Pearl has done a great job coaching on the floor, he reportedly has been silent in dealing with Auburn administration. " You have limitations and yet I will never be false or misleading, " Pearl said. " There are a lot of things I can't say and a lot of things I don't know. In fact, a lot of the things in this investigation I don't know about."
When he got in hot water at Tennessee, his biggest mistake was not being truthful from the beginning. I certainly hope he doesn't repeat that same mistake.
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Randy Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org