AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn basketball suffered through a tough Saturday with a loss to struggling South Carolina and, more importantly, the season-ending injury to center Anfernee McLemore.
Still, it could’ve been worse for Bruce Pearl’s Tigers. Auburn’s slip-up came in another week filled with them across the Top 25. The Tigers still have what amounts to at least a three-game lead on everybody in the SEC championship race, and they shouldn’t suffer too much of a blow in terms of rankings and bracket projections.
How Auburn responds to the loss of McLemore on Wednesday night against Alabama will be huge. Until then, though, Auburn basketball isn’t in doomsday mode by any means.
Here’s my AP Top 25 ballot:
- Michigan State
- Texas Tech
- North Carolina
- Ohio State
- Wichita State
- West Virginia
- Rhode Island
- Saint Mary’s
- Middle Tennessee
Auburn drops three spots to No. 11 in my ballot this week. Yes, the South Carolina loss was bad. The Gamecocks are in the 80s on KenPom and had lost six straight heading into Saturday. Auburn played virtually its worst possible game before the McLemore injury and still turned a massive deficit into a 5-point one. Losing by 9 on the road in a conference game isn’t the end of the world.
But in a week that saw Cincinnati and Ohio State lose twice, the Tigers should have a cushion for their fall down the poll this week. It’s getting to the point in the season when it takes a lot to make a big drop in my eyes. Losing at South Carolina didn’t change all the good work the Tigers did leading up to that trip to Columbia.
Other notes from my ballot this week:
- Villanova lost to Providence and then shelled Xavier on the road. What a sport! Look, the Wildcats have a No. 1-esque resume when you study their wins. The upset losses have been surprising, but basically every team in the country has taken at least two of those this season.
- As for Xavier, it’s hard to make the Musketeers plummet because they lost to a better team. With all the chaos below them and 10 KenPom top-50 wins to their name, it’s hard to justify jumping several teams over them just because they can’t beat a great Villanova team. In big games, few have done that in recent seasons.
- Oh, Cincinnati. I bragged on you Bearcats last week for smacking a bunch of teams when so many across the country were struggling to put their lower-ranked conference foes away. But when the schedule stepped up this week — a true test of staying power as a top-5 team — UC lost to Houston and Wichita State. That’s a real blow to a resume that was built on beating a lot of so-so at best teams in the AAC.
- West Virginia went up in my ballot despite losing this week. The Mountaineers are a special case because of the losses ahead of them and because they only lost by single digits to Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. By the way, that game featured Kansas shooting 35 free throws and West Virginia only shooting 2. Give me a break with that.
- A loss that will really hurt in my ballot is one like Saint Mary’s had against San Francisco last week. USF is No. 141 in KenPom, and the Gaels didn’t exactly earn a ton of style points against Portland. The ceilings and the floors are lower for ranked teams in these smaller conferences.
- Welcome to the party, Houston and Middle Tennessee. These are deserved spots for some tough mid-major programs. As for No. 25, Baylor was in a world of hurt in a tough Big 12, but it’s rattled off five straight wins — including ones over Kansas and Texas Tech.