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Auburn's Bruce Pearl sending message with tough schedule

Aug. 13, 2014

Bruce Pearl's first Auburn schedule will be challenging

By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- New coach Bruce Pearl promised a more high-profile Auburn basketball program when he was hired, and he's not wasting time getting there.

Auburn's first four, and possibly first five games this season will be against teams that made last year's NCAA Tournament and, before the early part of the season is done, the Tigers will have played seven, and possibly eight, non-conference teams that made the Big Dance.

Then? Then the SEC season begins.

Pearl's ambitious non-conference scheduling is a departure for Auburn, but it is part of his master plan.

"It's one of the most important ways I can send a message to my players that I believe in them," Pearl said.

Auburn will tease the fans with an exhibition game against West Alabama in Auburn Arena on Nov. 7 before embarking on a challenging journey against teams familiar with the NCAA tourney. The Tigers will open against one of Pearl's old teams, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, at home on Nov. 14. Auburn will be at Colorado for a midnight game, Auburn time, on Nov. 18. Then Auburn will host Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 21 before a trip to Las Vegas for the Heavyweight Bracket of the MGM Grand Main Event to play Tulsa on Nov. 24. That will make four straight games against teams that made the NCAAs last year. Then there will be a game against either Oklahoma State, which made the NCAA tourney, or Oregon State, on Nov. 26 in Vegas.

A couple of other non-conference highlights: A game against Coastal Carolina, which is coached by former coach Cliff Ellis, at home on Dec. 5; and a home game against Xavier on Dec. 20. Auburn will close out its non-conference schedule at home against North Alabama on Jan. 3 before opening SEC play Jan. 7. The SEC schedule will be announced next week.

Pearl says it's a tough way to open a season. But it's the right way.

"You don't have to play our non-conference schedule unless you want to," Pearl said. "There's always a balance in knowing you can schedule some wins and knowing you can give your kids some confidence with a good schedule to put yourself in position to make post-season. This is the formula I've always used."

Pearl said Auburn needs to play its way back to being an NCAA Tournament team, and to do it, he said, the Tigers need to build their RPI and how the program is perceived. Pearl said that's why he has scheduled his challenging non-conference schedule.

"I like to target mid-major programs that have finished at the top of their leagues, and understand what post-season play is all about," he said. "That's one of the reasons I like playing them, but I don't subscribe to the theory that you have everything to lose and nothing to gain. I understand our fans expect us to beat those teams. Most of the time we will."

The SEC has pressed teams to produce good non-conference schedules to boost the league's RPI which, in turn, will increase the chances of conference teams making the NCAA Tournament.

"It's been an emphasis of the league, but it's always been my emphasis," Pearl said. "It didn't need to an emphasis of the league for me to do what I'm doing. There are several messages we have to send the league before they'll recognize us as an upper-division contender. We have to win, we need to draw and we need to schedule.

"This sends a message to the league when they decide who is going to be on ESPN and who's not, who's going to get the better matchups in the Big 12-SEC Challenge and who's not. We've got a long way to go."

Auburn's non-conference schedule

Date      Opponent                            Location         Time*
Nov. 7    West Alabama (exhibition) Auburn           8:30 p.m.
Nov. 14   Wisconsin-Milwaukee      Auburn           TBA
Nov. 18   at Colorado                      Boulder           Midnight
Nov. 21    La.-Lafayette                   Auburn          7 p.m.
Nov. 24   vs. Tulsa                          Las Vegas      10 p.m.
Nov. 26   Okla. St. or Oregon St.      Las Vegas      TBA
Dec. 3      at Texas Tech                 Lubbock         8 p.m.
Dec. 5      Coastal Carolina              Auburn           7 p.m.
Dec. 14     at Clemson                    Clemson          TBA
Dec. 17    Winthrop                       Auburn            8 p.m.
Dec. 20    Xavier                           Auburn            7 p.m.
Dec. 23    Texas Southern              Auburn            7 p.m.
Dec. 29    Middle Tennessee St      Auburn            7 p.m.
Jan. 3       North Alabama              Auburn             4 p.m. 
*All times Central 

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:

Breakdown of the 2014-15 non-conference schedule


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