It's difficult to be a member of a power conference and reach February without playing a single team that's been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll at any point in the season. One way or another, odds are, you'll stumble into at least one before January ends. But, somehow, Auburn did not -- which is among the reasons the Tigers entered Saturday's game vs. Kentucky with plenty of skeptics despite an 18-2 record.
To be clear, I'm sure skeptics still exist.
The computer numbers aren't great.
But folks can no longer say "Auburn hasn't beaten anybody" because Auburn just beat the Kentucky Wildcats -- a team that owns wins over the Louisville team that might win the ACC and the Michigan State team that might win the Big Ten. UK entered Auburn Arena on a four-game winning streak featuring victories at Arkansas and at Texas Tech. But the 13th-ranked Wildcats couldn't add another impressive road win in a hostile environment. They were outscored by 10 points in the final 20 minutes and lost 75-66, meaning John Calipari has now dropped two straight to his old Volunteer State rival, Bruce Pearl.
And BP predicted it.
"We're fixin' to have us a good day!" Pearl told his players pregame.
Then they had a great day.
The Tigers only shot 35.3% from the field but still won by nine, in part because they shot 44 free throws and made 33 of them. It was the most free throws anybody has attempted against Kentucky in more than four years.
"They put their head down and they go," Calipari said while trying to explain the whistles.
"It was a great day at Auburn Arena," Pearl added.
And the most remarkable thing about the day is that there was nothing surprising about it. In fact, Auburn was a 3-point favorite at tip-off -- which means we've reached the point where Auburn can lose its top three scorers from the previous season and still be favored to win a basketball game against Kentucky.
Think about that.
We really have reached the point where Auburn can make the Final Four with Bryce Brown, Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke leading the way, lose all three players, and still start the next season 19-2 with a victory over Kentucky. And if you're unclear about how incredible that is, allow me to share some numbers Josh Vitale, the Auburn beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser, provided postgame via Twitter.
Auburn went 1-32 against Kentucky -- ONE AND THIRTY-TWO! -- between 1990 and 2015. But Auburn, under Pearl, is 4-3 against the Wildcats in the past seven meetings. And Auburn, under Pearl, just won a second straight game against Kentucky for the first time since 1990.
"Fans should be used to this -- because we work hard," Auburn senior Austin Wiley said after the win, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. "It shouldn't be a surprising win when we beat Kentucky, because we have good players, too."
The fact that Wiley is right -- that it really shouldn't be surprising when Auburn beats Kentucky -- is the most amazing part of Auburn's latest win over Kentucky. And for the UK fans reading, don't fret, your team is fine. The Wildcats, again, just won at Arkansas and Texas Tech -- and are 11-2 in their past 13 February games. Burying a Calipari-coached team before Valentine's Day is usually dumb.
Kentucky might still win the SEC.
But on Saturday, for the fourth time in the past seven tries, including last season's Elite Eight showdown, Auburn finished with more points than Kentucky. Typing that sentence seemed unimaginable for most of the past three decades. But, suddenly, it's not. Like Austin Wiley said, it wasn't even a surprise.