After limping into the SEC Tournament with a February record of 2-6, the Auburn Tigers locked up a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region and will No. 8-seed Iowa on Thursday. The Tigers finished the regular season 7th in the league standings and while they did manage a defeat of Tennessee in the SEC first round in Nashville, Tenn., the Vols were missing SEC assist leader Zakai Zeigler at point guard with a torn ACL. The Tigers then dropped their second-round game to Arkansas, 76-73, as Wendell Green Jr. missed a last-second 3-point attempt that would have tied the game.

Auburn finished the 2022-23 season with 7 wins against tournament teams, and Bruce Pearl has now reached the NCAA Tournament for the 4th time in 5 seasons on the plains. Auburn will strive to play more like the team that put an 8-game win streak together to begin the season and had a 5-game winning streak in early January. Since that January run, the Tigers have failed to win back-to-back games.

With all of that said, Auburn gets a good Iowa team in nearby Birmingham, Ala., and with a victory will likely face No. 1 seed Houston in the 2nd round. Houston lost to Memphis in the AAC Tournament title game, sorely missing Marcus Sasser. Here’s a look at the Tigers’ first round opponent Iowa and how Auburn can get through to the weekend.

Scouting Iowa

Back-to-back losses to Nebraska and Ohio State ended an up-and-down season for the Hawkeyes. They beat Indiana twice, including one on the road in late February that came right after a stirring OT defeat of Michigan State. But that was followed by early-March losses to Nebraska and Ohio State.

It matched the the rhythm of the rest of the season. They put together 5 wins in a row to open the season and a 4-game win streak in early January, with the rest of the schedule a rollercoaster of wins and losses in between. Since a 81-67 defeat of Maryland to close out the January run, the Hawkeyes’ longest streak either win or lose was 3. The Big 10’s No. 5 seed was defeated for the 2nd time this season by Ohio State in the Hawkeyes’ first Big 10 tourney game Thursday. With 4 Quad-1 wins Iowa is a team that can score and defend multiple ways.

All-Big 10 first-team junior Kris Murray will be the key for the Hawkeyes if they are to make a run in Birmingham. Murray averaged 20.5 points, 8 rebounds and 1 block a game. He scored double-digit points in all but 1 game in 2023, has scored 20 or more 15 times this season and 25 or more 13 times. Iowa will need Murray to continue that scoring to advance in Birmingham.

Iowa is a scoring team, leading the Big 10 in points a game at 80.6. The Hawkeyes also led the conference with an average of more than 16 assists a game. But Iowa also can be found at the other end of the Big 10 statistical spectrum in giving up the most points a game at 74.5. The best of the team’s Quad-1 wins came from the games against Indiana.

One of the most notable things about Iowa could be tournament poise. This will be Iowa’s fourth NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2018-19 season, and the Hawkeyes appeared on their way in March 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic.


Auburn will need to play its best offensive game of the season if it hopes to keep pace with Iowa. But the Tigers are rested and playing a virtual home game in Birmingham and could play early in the day since Alabama will play there as the overall No. 1 seed on the same day. With the location and time both in Auburn’s favor, I’ll take the Tigers from the lower position of the No. 8-9 game, 74-70.

Beyond the opener

Auburn can salvage the 2022-23 season and begin a Sweet 16 run while in Birmingham if they knock off Iowa. Houston  figures to be next, whether they are missing Nesser or not. Again, Auburn has been up and down since the calendar flipped to 2023. But the Tigers are capable of such a run. Even if Nesser misses Houston’s first game to rest, he’ll still have rust to knock off. If Auburn ever could take advantage of a favorable situation, now is the time.