Auburn vaulted into the top 10 of the Associated Press men's college basketball poll Monday for the first time since February 2000.
If junior guard Bryce Brown doesn't cool off any time soon, Bruce Pearl's Tigers could continue to climb. Auburn improved to 21-2 overall and 9-1 in Southeastern Conference play with Saturday night's 93-81 win over Vanderbilt, which marked the third time in four games the No. 8 Tigers surpassed 90 points.
Brown tallied 25 points against the Commodores and has made a staggering 53.6 percent (30 of 56) of his 3-point attempts in his last seven games."I was telling our team the other day that Coach Pearl uses him like he was using Chris Loftin back when he was at Tennessee," LSU coach Will Wade said Monday. "He's one of those guys that every time the ball leaves his hands, you think it's going in. He's the best player right now on the best team in the league, so he's certainly got to be in the conversation for being one of the top players in the league."
Auburn hasn't produced an All-SEC first-team selection since Doc Robinson in 2000, and the program's only conference MVPs were Charles Barkley in 1984 and Chris Porter in 1999.
A 6-foot-3, 198-pounder out of Tucker High in the Atlanta suburb of Stone Mountain, Brown is averaging 17.0 points per game to rank fourth in the SEC behind Georgia forward Yante Maten (19.3), Alabama guard Collin Sexton (18.7) and Arkansas guard Jaylen Barford (18.6). Brown's 80 3-pointers are 13 more than the second-place total of Missouri's Kassius Robertson.
Against the Commodores, Brown scored 15 consecutive points in a second-half stretch.
"He's humble and hungry, and he goes out every night trying to prove he's one of the best guards in the league," Pearl said. "Bryce is absolutely capable of taking over games, but you don't need him to do it for 40 minutes, and he doesn't try to. He stays pretty patient waiting for his opportunities to attack."
Brown's special season hasn't come out of nowhere, given that he averaged 10.1 points per game as a freshman two seasons ago and finished second in the league in 3-point shooting last year. Yet there is no question he is vastly improved on a vastly improved team.
"He's playing with a lot more confidence, and he looks bigger and stronger than he did last year," Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. "The offense they run suits him very well. He is much more aggressive off the dribble, whereas last year we felt like he was more catch-and-shoot. A lot of the baskets he scored against us was just taking his man one-0n-one.
"He has really expanded his game, which is a credit to him and his coaching staff."
There have been plenty of games when Brown had company from long range, with Saturday night being a prime example. Brown went 5-of-7 on 3-point attempts, while Mustapha Heron, Jared Harper, Chuma Okeke and Malik Dunbar were a combined 11-of-17.
"Harper really controls the game," Wade said. "They're able to get downhill and get Brown the ball. Mustapha Heron has been playing really well, too, and hit five 3s in our game. They've got a lot of answers and a lot of firepower."
Said Drew: "When you can shoot as well as what they shot against us with the kind of speed they have to get around screens, they're almost unguardable."
Auburn, the only undefeated SEC team at home this season, hosts Texas A&M on Wednesday night.
Never felt snubbed
Pearl admitted Monday that Auburn's preseason projection of 11th in the SEC has been used for motivation this winter, but he never felt it was a snubbing.
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"It's been a rallying thing, and we want to continue it to be, but we never felt like we were being snubbed because we have such respect for the league," Pearl said. "I told our guys the other day, 'Where would you have liked them to have picked us? Who in the preseason should we have been picked ahead of? We finished 11th last year.'
"We knew we could compete and do better than that, but the only way to do that was by showing it on the floor, and that's what we're trying to do."
This article is written by David Paschall from Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.