AUBURN, Ala. — Bruce Pearl’s Auburn basketball team has likely played its final game of the 2016-17 season.
After losing to Missouri in the first round of the SEC Tournament, Auburn (18-14) will not accept a postseason bid unless it is to the National Invitational Tournament, Pearl announced on Friday afternoon.
In the days leading up to Auburn’s second consecutive game against Missouri, Pearl said he believed his squad needed at least two wins on its postseason resume to earn a place in the NIT.
That hope likely ended when Mizzou senior Kevin Puryear drilled a game-winning 3-pointer at the end of one overtime period on Wednesday night.
Pearl said the decision not to participate in the College Basketball Invitational, a lower-level postseason tournament, was supported fully by Auburn administration.
“One of our expectations this year, one of our goals, was to go to postseason. At this level, postseason means the NCAA Tournament or NIT,” Pearl said. “That is absolutely not to take away from any of the other postseason tournaments. But sometimes you have to honor tradition and also recognize the fact that we had lots of opportunities to win our way into either tournament, and we just weren’t able to do it.
“For me, I have too much respect for the teams that went to postseason to call this team a postseason team. We had our chances, we didn’t get there. Own it. That’s the best thing I can do. I think that lesson is going to mean more than any lesson we’d learn by continuing to play.”
Instead Auburn will focus on the future, turning its attention to offseason workouts upon a return from spring break with a major emphasis on strength and conditioning as well as defensive fundamentals.
“This spring, we’ll be focusing a great deal on the fundamentals of defending. I’ll be very involved with it. I’ll have my hands all over it. It’s our area for greatest growth. We didn’t grow as a team defensively this year.”
With five freshmen who gained significant experience this year returning next season, as well as juniors-to-be Bryce Brown and Horace Spencer, Pearl anticipates better results in 2017-18.
“Next year our expectation should be in the NCAA Tournament,” Pearl said. “I rarely say that. I talked about postseason. I wasn’t going to put that on this year’s team. I just thought it was too much to ask. I thought the NIT was realistic. I think next year (the) NCAA Tournament is realistic and it should be our expectation.”