One of nation’s top non-conference schedules awaits Auburn Basketball

AUBURN, Ala. ( Auburn Basketball will face one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the nation in 2016-17 against NCAA Final Four Oklahoma, at UConn, Texas Tech, North Florida, at UAB and a possible game against No. 12 Purdue in the Cancun Challenge, third-year head coach Bruce Pearl announced Wednesday.

Games vs. Boston College, at TCU, Coastal Carolina, Mercer and possibly Utah State are also on the 13-game non-conference schedule that includes eight 2016 postseason teams, including four that played in the NCAA Tournament.

“I’ve always believed that you schedule where you want your program to be regardless of whether it is ready or not,” said Pearl. “This is one of the toughest non-conference schedules in college basketball and our program will be challenged. But, if we can manage to win a couple of games that we are not supposed to and grind out a few others, we could put our program in position to go someplace we haven’t gone in a long time, and that is postseason.”

Following an exhibition vs. Div. II Montevallo on Nov. 4, Auburn plays its season opener on Nov. 11 vs. back-to-back Atlantic Sun Champion North Florida, which played in the 2015 NCAA Tournament and 2016 NIT.

The Tigers will play four games in the Cancun Challenge beginning with home games vs. Georgia State on Nov. 14 and Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 17. Georgia State has won 25 games in two of the last three seasons and defeated Baylor in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Eastern Kentucky has won 21 or more games three out of the last four years.

In Cancun’s Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya with both games televised by the CBS Sports Network, Auburn will play Texas Tech, a 2016 NCAA Tournament team, on Nov. 22 followed by either Purdue or Utah State on Nov. 23. The Boilermakers finished last season ranked 12th nationally by the Associated Press after going 26-9 and reaching the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year and for the eighth time in the last 10 seasons. Since 2000, Utah State has won seven regular season conference titles and six tournament championships.

Auburn plays host to USC-Upstate on Nov. 29 and at C-USA Champion UAB on Dec. 3. The Tigers defeated the Blazers, which won a school record 26 games and went 16-2 in C-USA, 75-74 in last year’s season opener in Auburn Arena. It will mark the first time Auburn has played UAB in Birmingham since a 77-74 win in 1998 and the first time the Tigers have played in Bartow Arena since 1996.

Following an eight-day layoff for final exams, Auburn plays in the inaugural Under Armour “Reunion” vs. Boston College on Dec. 12 in Madison Square Garden in the Tigers’ first game in New York City in history. The Tigers play their final two of five non-conference home games against Coastal Carolina under former Auburn head coach Cliff Ellis on Dec. 15 and Mercer on Dec. 18.

Coastal, which lost to Auburn 81-78 last year in Conway, S.C., went to consecutive NCAA Tournaments in 2014 and 2015 and has won at least 21 games in five of the last seven seasons. Mercer has averaged 23.2 wins over the last five seasons, making postseason play each of those years.

Auburn closes its pre-conference schedule with two games in three days vs. Oklahoma in the Hall of Fame’s Birthday of Basketball in the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on Dec. 21, the 125th anniversary of the day the game of basketball was invented. The Sooners have averaged 24 wins over the last four seasons.

The Tigers play at UConn on Dec. 23 in the first game of a two-game series that will return to Auburn in 2017. The Huskies’ four national championships since 1999 are more than any program in the country during that time. UConn has four-straight 20-win seasons, an average of 24.3 wins per year.

“One of our challenges in scheduling is to attract great teams to Auburn Arena,” said Pearl. “We have a great homecourt advantage, a tough place to play. This isn’t exactly fertile recruiting ground for people to come to and historically our RPI hasn’t been very strong so we aren’t an attractive opponent. We believe times are changing. To be able to get a program like UConn back in our building in 2017, we think we have a chance to be a pretty good team. It gives us an opportunity to build our resume.

“In the last couple of years, we have played Xavier, Colorado and Oklahoma State at home and that’s one of the things in developing a program is to develop your schedule, challenge your players and bring quality opponents into your own building.”

Auburn will appear in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge for the fourth consecutive seasons when it plays at TCU on Jan. 28.

In Pearl’s last eight seasons, two at Auburn and six at Tennessee, his teams have averaged a phenomenal strength of schedule ranking of 14.08 in the nation by, including five top six rankings being No. 1 in 2007-08, No. 2 in 2010-11, No. 3 in 2008-09, No. 5 in 2006-07 and No. 6 in 2005-06. Auburn’s strength of schedule last season was No. 21. Pearl’s record is 5-5 vs. top 5 teams, including No. 2 Tennessee’s 66-62 win at No. 1 Memphis in 2008.

Times and television are to be determined while the 18-game SEC portion of the schedule will be announced in August.


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