Bruce Pearl shared some insightful thoughts about the state of SEC basketball at today’s media day in Nashville.
The Auburn University coach said the league is better than it was during his 2005-11 stint at Knoxville, but you wouldn’t know it by scanning the national media.
“The league is better now than when I was at Tennessee,” Pearl said. “But it’s not better at the top of the league, and that’s how leagues are always judged, how good you are at the top.”
“Kentucky is always going to be Kentucky. But when Billy (Donovan) was at Florida, they were always there. When I was at Tennessee, we were always there. And then, those three teams in the East, helped bring Georgia up and Vanderbilt, playing that schedule.
“You look at the bottom four teams in our league right now: Missouri, picked last. … They are a great program, with a phenomenal facility, and a great history and tradition, they’re picked last in the SEC. Then, Tennessee, with the best building and one of the best Hall of Fame coaches in Rick Barnes, and real recent history. Picked what? 13.
“Then, LSU… they’ve been a perennial…. Then Auburn, the bottom of our league. And the middle of our league is really good.
“Now, the top of our league, we’ve got to have separation. Will it be Texas A&M? Will it be Florida? Who else, will it be Georgia? Who else that is there now can stay there? Because for us to be a great league, we need four or five who can stay there.”
As for his Tigers, Pearl was pleased with the first season and excited about the opportunity, despite the low expectations put on by the preseason projection.
“We won three games in the SEC Tournament, played Kentucky in the semifinals, that hasn’t happened at Auburn in 30 years,” Pearl said about his first year. “So when you do something in your first year that hasn’t been done in 30 years, it’s something, I have to give those kids credit.”
Still, Pearl said, not having more success in year one was something new for him, and he’s working to lift the program higher – and the fans are ready.
“I haven’t been able to win like I was able to win early at Southern Indiana, at Milwaukee, or at Tennessee,” Pearl said. “My motivation is I want to provide Auburn with a return on their investment. Our fans are, we’re sold out of season tickets three straight years. We’re fourth in the nation in percentage of people in the seats; 91 percent of our seats are full each game.
“And they’re hopeful.”