The Auburn Tigers may going to the Bahamas for the week, but Bruce Pearl knows this trip is far from a vacation.
No. 19 Auburn (3-0) is set for an extraordinary Thanksgiving week thanks to playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, a three-day tournament held at Paradise Islands featuring the Tigers along with Arizona State, Baylor, Loyola-Chicago, Michigan State, Syracuse, UConn and VCU.
Auburn opens its tournament run at 1:30 p.m. CT Wednesday against No. 22 UConn. Given the challenge of the opening matchup and the overall talent in the tournament, Pearl made it apparent his team better be focused on basketball.
“This is a business trip,” Pearl said Sunday. “There’s not going to be a lot of swimming with the dolphins. This is not a cultural summer tour. We won’t be visiting many museums or spending much time on the beach.”
Pearl noted the Tigers might be facing the tournament’s toughest team right out of the gates.
UConn (4-0) is off to a hot start in coach Dan Hurley’s fourth season and seems set to build off last season, when the Huskies made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016. Pearl pointed out how stellar the Huskies’ defense has been the season – opponents are only averaging 51 points – and emphasized how their stellar offensive rebounding has set them up well for success.
Forward Adama Sanogo leads UConn in scoring with 15.8 points per game. Other playmakers for the Huskies include leading rebounder Andre Jackson and assist leader RJ Cole.
“They’ve got a bunch of guys that go. They’re big, strong, physical, athletic, tough, old, so we’re going to have to be able to handle the physicality,” Pearl said. “There are certain trademarks and certain cultures of certain teams, and Dan Hurley’s teams are always going to be physical defensively, they’re always going to rebound and they’re always going to get high-percentage looks.”
Thanks to the double-elimination tournament, the Tigers know they’ll experience several tough matchups in the days that follow the UConn game, with the next showdown being between either Michigan State or Loyola-Chicago on Thursday.
Pearl explained Auburn’s offensive execution will be challenged over the course of the tournament starting with the UConn matchup. He said there are so many areas the Tigers need to step their game up in, though he added improving as the season went along was expected with a team featuring so many new faces.
Pearl didn’t mince his words when saying the way Auburn has played wouldn’t be good enough to beat the Huskies on Wednesday. Soon enough, he’ll see if his Tigers rise to the occasion as they try and prove they belong among some of the nation’s top teams.
“This is just an opportunity to play three great teams, and it’s an opportunity to build or destroy your resume,” Pearl said. “This is made for television. This is made for the opportunity to play against the best teams in the country, and to get tested in all the different ways that you’re going to be tested.”