When you think of great moments in Auburn basketball history, you probably think about the run to the Final Four or maybe the SEC Tournament championship that same season. You might think about Charles Barkley and Sonny Smith, or perhaps the high flying 1999 SEC championship team.
Whatever memories you have, you should add last weekend to that list of great moments. The weekend that Auburn had all the eyes of college basketball on its program.
While the 75-66 win over Kentucky on Saturday was sweet, being on College Gameday in itself was a memorable experience for the University, the students and anyone who has a connection to the AU.
Being on Gameday means a lot for Auburn, but it also means a lot for other teams that are starting to make strides in college basketball. Auburn may be a school with passionate fans, but most Auburn fans are just beginning to watch Auburn basketball.
That might be a controversial statement, but last season during Auburn’s run to the Final Four, Auburn only had a sellout crowd for six of its 17 home games. Now this season, the Tigers have had eight sellout crowds in 13 of their home games.
Some people will sit there and say that they don’t watch Gameday during basketball season, or they didn’t even know it existed, and while that may be true, having any pregame show come to campus for any sport is a big deal.
I will admit I’m not a fanatic of the program. However, if I want to listen for commentary about a specific game or want to see a student attempt a half-court shot and I happen to be up that early after a Friday night – remember we’re college students - then I tune in.
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Hosting Gameday last weekend will make Auburn the eighth SEC school to host the ESPN show.
Outside of Kentucky hosting in 2019, Auburn was the first SEC school to host the program since 2017 with Florida, another respected basketball powerhouse.
It’s crazy to think that a school that once saw wins over Top 25 teams as upsets, now hosted a Top 25 matchup last weekend in front of a national audience and not only won but is upset that the Tigers dropped to No. 17 in the Top 25 two weeks ago.
Bruce Pearl talked about the excitement of hosting Gameday after the Iowa State game and how the eyes of college basketball will be on Auburn. He should know better than anyone about how much Gameday’s arrival means, as he was the head coach of Tennessee when they last hosted.
One of Auburn’s slogan is that they are an “everything school,” and while some may see that as a marketing pitch, the expression does ring true. Fans should be fortunate that the school has succeeded in so many different sports.
Growing up in Texas as a TCU fan, I experienced somewhat of the same struggles as Auburn fans have concerning their basketball program. While both schools had successful football teams and reached their program’s high point in 2010, the basketball team did not reach these same heights. It was frustrating to see TCU football compete for conference championships seemingly year in and year out, while the basketball team seemed to hit new lows every season.
When TCU football won the Rose Bowl during the 2010-11 season, TCU basketball finished the season with a record of 11-22 and a 1-15 record in the Mountain West. While for Auburn, when the football team won the national championship in 2010-11, the basketball team went 11-20 and 4-12 in the SEC.
Now things are different for both schools; Bruce Pearl has resuscitated the basketball program but also the atmosphere around Auburn basketball in his six years on the Plains. For TCU and Jamie Dixon, the program is still changing its perception in the landscape of college basketball.
Gameday’s arrival last weekend was something that fans should recognize its impact for Auburn, just like how they should not take the rise of Auburn basketball for granted. It was just a few short years ago when Auburn could only dream about having a nationally televised game or making the NCAA tournament.
With the win and College Gameday coming to town, it reminded me of a conversation that my grandpa and I had ahead of the Final Four last year. As I sat on campus soaking in the buzz ahead of the Final Four, he told me to remember these moments because I’ll look back one day and remember how fun it was.
The reason for him telling me this was because when he was a kid growing up in Texas, TCU football won the conference championship in 1958 and 1959, and after that, they did not win again until 1994.
Austin Wiley spoke after Auburn’s 75-66 win over Kentucky about how fans should get used to these types of wins for Auburn and that it should not be a surprise when the Tigers beat a good team. So, my message to the fans is; just sit back, enjoy the ride and everything it brings.
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