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Auburn coach Bruce Pearl is one win or a Tennessee loss from clinching the SEC title.

Auburn basketball could clinch share of SEC title with win over Florida

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Is it as simple as Auburn basketball needing just one more win to win the SEC?

AUBURN, Ala. — As unbelievable as it sounds, with three games left in the SEC schedule, Auburn basketball fans are talking about championship-clinching scenarios.

Auburn (12-3) has a two-game lead on second-place Tennessee (10-5) in the SEC with three games left. Tennessee plays at Ole Miss at noon CT Saturday. Auburn visits Florida at 7:30 p.m. CT.

If Tennessee loses to Ole Miss, Auburn will clinch at least a share of the SEC championship before stepping onto the floor in Gainesville. Even if Auburn loses to Florida and then Arkansas and South Carolina next week, the Volunteers could only tie the Tigers at 12-6 if they lose one more game.

It is a scenario that Bruce Pearl knows, but he says he is not focusing on it.

“I think at this point, you’ve got to look at the leaderboard a little bit,” Pearl said on Thursday. “And I don’t know whether it’s just my routine or I’ve not done it all year long, I don’t know when they play. I can’t worry about that. I’ve got to worry about our team trying to get better.”

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“At least a share” is key here, though. A Tennessee loss or Auburn win on Saturday doesn’t clinch an outright SEC title.

Even though Auburn defeated Tennessee in Knoxville in January, the Tigers and Vols would be co-champions if they finish tied atop the league standings. Tiebreakers would only matter for seeding purposes at the SEC Tournament in two weeks.

While Auburn would have a legitimate claim to an outright title if it finished with the same record as Tennessee, that is not how it works by SEC rules. For Auburn to clinch an outright championship in the SEC’s eyes, the magic number is two — a combination of Auburn wins or Tennessee losses — for the last three games.

But thanks to that win against Tennessee, there wouldn’t be any dispute about an Auburn SEC championship if it gets one more victory. And it will be a prize that Pearl savors.

“As I’ve said before, the prize of a regular-season conference championship is probably every coach’s dream,” Pearl said. “I know everybody pays attention to March and to the victor goes the spoils in the postseason and tournament play, I get all that. But as a coach and a grinder and a teacher, the treasure of a regular-season championship, you can’t compare it.”

Auburn basketball-Auburn Tigers-Auburn-Bruce Pearl
Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl won an SEC title 10 years ago at Tennessee. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Pearl has a great point. To take a national championship, a team has to win six consecutive games across three weekends in March. It is an exciting way to determine a champion, but it is not the most logical way.

The SEC Tournament title is similar — it can get a bubble team into the NCAA Tournament through the automatic bid process, but the real champion will be determined over 18 conference games.

Winning a regular-season title puts a team in the best position for an improved seed in March, but that shouldn’t overshadow a conference crown. Plenty of great teams play in the NCAA Tournament. Only a few go in as power-conference champions.

“If you do that, you put yourself in a position based on your seeding to have an opportunity to advance in March,” Pearl said. “So [the regular-season title is] something we want real badly.”

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But it is not a guarantee. Auburn has to avoid going 0-3 down the stretch against three teams that are capable of defeating the Tigers.

“It’s not going to come easy,” Pearl said. “At Florida, at Arkansas, home against a South Carolina team that absolutely dominated us like no other team in this league has … we’ll take it one game at a time.”