By LARRY VAUGHT
Auburn shared the Southeastern Conference championship with Tennessee with a 13-5 record, but struggled in the final four games after center Anfernee McLemore was lost for the season with a knee injury.
The Tigers had got into the top 10 despite having an assistant coach arrested and their top two players declared ineligible before the season even started.
Auburn will play its first game in the SEC Tournament Friday at 1 p.m. If it wins and Kentucky wins the next game, the two would play in the SEC semifinals on Saturday.
“(Coach) Bruce (Pearl) has done a really good job with his team. They’ve got good players in there,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “This is a team that I think is very talented and tough. I know you watch them all the time, but Bryce Brown, Mustapha Heron are very good players.
“They’re undersized. Losing Anfernee is a big deal. McLemore is a good player, was a good shot-blocker, a guy who played really hard. Losing him is a big deal. ”
Yet Bilas says not to overlook the Tigers this week or going forward.
“They’re still good. They can still beat just about anybody out there, but not having a capable player in your lineup like that reduces your chances of a longer run in the tournament than otherwise,” Bilas said.
“If they had him, you could say they’re an Elite 8 team without straining yourself. They’re more vulnerable without him in there.”