Auburn opens NCAA Basketball Tournament against New Mexico State

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Hours after winning the Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament over Tennessee, the Auburn Tigers found out their draw for the NCAA  Basketballl Tournament. The Tigers, a No. 5 seed in the Midwest Regional, will play 30-4 New Mexico State on Thursday in Salt Lake City.

The winner of the matchup vs. the Tigers and New Mexico State Cowboys will play the winner of Kansas vs. Northeastern on Saturday in the round of 32.

Coach Bruce Pearl did not look excited about his team’s seeding when it was announced during the selection show, but didn’t offer any public criticism of his team being a No. 5 seed. “I don’t worry about that stuff,”  he said. “They put us on the same line as Mississippi State. I am happy for Mississippi State’s five. We are just happy to be SEC champions and are excited about going to play for a national championship.”

Pearl’s Tigers will take an eight-game winning streak into the tournament and a 26-9 overall record.

“We have a four-team tournament right now–Northeastern, Kansas, Auburn and New Mexico State will play for the opportunity to advance to the Sweet 16. We will work on all four of our (potential) opponents.”

The coach said he may give the players a day off on Monday to rest other than a light conditioning workout after playing four games in four days at the SEC Tournament. “My guess is we will try to depart on Tuesday morning,” the coach said.  “I just think it is important that don’t do much.”

Commenting on being sent to Salt Lake City and the Midwest Regional, where North Carolina is the No. 1 seed, Pearl said, “I wish we were closer for our fans. Auburn doesn’t get in the tournament very often. They created the pod system to try to keep you a little closer to home, but you have to be better than a five (seed) to enjoy some of that.  We just want to go in there and represent the SEC as its tournament champion.”

Pearl said he knows New Mexico State’s coach, Chris Jans, and his background in the Wichita State program, but he and his staff will be working on the scouting report on the Cowboys as soon as the team returns to Auburn.  “I just know he is a terrific coach. We got to see them last year when we were in San Diego. He does a terrific job. His kids play really hard and they have always been very athletic.”

For the Tigers it is a second straight invitation. Last season they went to the West Regional at San Diego State as a No. 4 seed. They defeated College of Charleston before being upset by Clemson in the round of 32.

With their 84-64 victory over Tennessee on Sunday at Bridgestone Arena the Tigers improfed their record to 26-9.

“We’re obviously going to celebrate this tonight,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “We will probably wake up in the morning feeling good about it. Then we will try to represent the SEC as its tournament champion in the NCAA tournament.

“I’m happy for our team, our university,”  Pearl said. “The championship means so much because it might have been the best year the SEC has had in how many years and Auburn is its tournament champion That says a lot about these guys, our coaching staff, and the program.”

 Bryce Brown was named the SEC Tournament Most Valuable Player and he set a record for the most three-pointers in an SEC Tournament with 18 in AU’s four victories. He was 5-10 on treys in the championship game vs. Tennessee.

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