Can the Auburn Tigers go unbeaten the rest of the season? Is Chris Mack going to figure things out at Louisville? Let’s take a look at those topics and more in this week’s edition of our NCAAB Notebook!
Auburn ranked No. 1 for first time in history
For the first time in program history, the Auburn Tigers are ranked atop the AP Top 25 poll. An 18-1 start for Bruce Pearl’s team has them flying high, as does an 80-71 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday. While the injury of TyTy Washington made things easier for the Tigers, Kentucky charged out of halftime with a 9-0 run to take the lead.
However, Auburn used a 13-3 run to pull ahead and never trailed the rest of the game. Jabari Smith took over down the stretch, and scored 14 points while grabbing seven rebounds. He is being discussed as a potential No. 1 pick in the upcoming 2022 NBA Draft, with the 6’10” freshman drawing comparisons to Kevin Durant.
With their dynamic athletes, and 7’1” William Kessler averaging better than four blocks per game, Pearl has his sights set on the top overall seed in the tournament. With just one ranked team currently on their remaining schedule, the Tigers could run the table in the SEC.
Will Shaedon Sharpe make his Kentucky debut?
Speaking of Kentucky, the Wildcats announced on Tuesday that Washington will miss their game against Mississippi State, and is a question mark for the matchup with Kansas on Saturday. While Wheeler is expected to be available, there are now even more calls for Shaedon Sharpe to make his debut.
John Calipari teased on his show on Monday night that Sharpe is now practicing with the team, and for the first time conceded that Sharpe could play this season. Sharpe was a former No. 1 prospect in the 2022 class who enrolled early at Kentucky in January, and could be a lottery pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, if he enters. He previously stated he would play at Kentucky the entirety of next season, but reports last week indicated he is, in fact, eligible to be drafted this summer.
Kentucky’s top-rated prospect this century per 247 Sports, Sharpe’s introduction could provide the Wildcats a true spark off the bench, and should Washington miss the Kansas game could give them a much-needed scoring presence alongside Wheeler. He could also end up being the piece that takes the Wildcats from a good team to a great team.
Is Chris Mack running out of time?
Just up I-64 in Louisville, you will find a fanbase very upset with their season thus far and many are calling for Mack’s job. The head coach was suspended by the school for the first six games due to NCAA violations, and the Cardinals started the season 5-1 without him. Since his return, they have won just six of 14 games, and have lost five of their last six in conference, all by nine points or more.
Saturday’s loss at home to Notre Dame, on the day they retired Russ Smith’s jersey, was the breaking point for many of the fans, and falling behind 27-8 last night at Virginia did not help his standing. The Cardinals cut the lead to four in the second half, but scored just three points in the final 3:09 and lost by 12.
Louisville has not played in the NCAA Tournament since 2018, and missing it against this season might be more than Mack can overcome. With fans no longer on board and players beginning to show signs of losing faith, the seat is scorching hot for the third-year coach.
Shaka Smart has Marquette ahead of schedule
After finishing with a losing record last season, Marquette was expected to have a rebuilding season under new head coach Shaka Smart. Instead, they are suddenly right in the heart of the Big East title race, and have won six straight games. Four of those victories came against ranked opponents, including a 32-point victory over league-leader Providence and a three-point win at Villanova last week. They have lost six games this season, but four came against ranked foes.
Currently sitting sixth in the Big East odds, Marquette is shooting the ball very well, and playing outstanding defense. They held Villanova to a season-low in points, and then limited Xavier to just two baskets in the final seven minutes of an 11-point win over the weekend. They play Providence again this Saturday, and another win would see them likely become favorites to win the conference.