AUBURN, Ala. -- Among the first things you see when you enter the Auburn locker room is a sign featuring the Tigers' logo. On both sides, there are words. They do not read, "Auburn Basketball" or "Win Today" or anything like that. Instead, the only two words present are these two: "Make History."
History was nearly made last Monday.
The Tigers have never been No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll -- but they had the resume to get there, and thus make history, following last weekend's win at Ole Miss. They had the nation's best record inside the first two quadrants and as many Quadrant 1 victories as anybody else. They had the sport's longest winning streak. They were the only team yet to lose in regulation. They had the best strength of record. They were the No. 1 overall seed in every sensible person's projected NCAA Tournament bracket, including . So, unsurprisingly, when the AP ballots were tabulated, Auburn received . But because one voter named Jon Wilner, who writes for the San Jose Mercury News, had Auburn sixth on his ballot, and another named Jesse Newell, who writes for the Kansas City Star, had Auburn ninth on his ballot, Bruce Pearl's Tigers finished four points behind Gonzaga, which was first or second on 59 of the 61 ballots.
"We had a chance to make history," Pearl told me. "But one voter, I guess, voted us ninth."
Yes, that's what happened.
And before you argue that it doesn't really matter because it's merely a poll in January that will have no bearing on who wins the 2022 NCAA Tournament, you should know that Pearl disagrees with you. He took Tennessee to No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time in history in 2008. It mattered. Now he desperately wants to do the same thing at Auburn, and he was admittedly disappointed when too many voters who don't prioritize wins and losses submitted ballots that kept his program four points short of the top spot.
"We have the best resume -- and it's not even that close," Pearl said. "And rankings matter. They do matter. I guess guys who are [No. 1] all the time, maybe they can say it doesn't matter. But it matters to us."
So now here we are, less than 24 hours from a showdown with 12th-ranked Kentucky on CBS that many are calling the biggest game in the history of Auburn Arena, and Pearl has another chance to make history, incredibly, by repeating it. When he took Tennessee to No. 1 in the AP poll in 2008, he did it by beating a John Calipari-coached team two days before the AP poll updated. Now, if he beats another Calipari-coached team two days before the AP poll updates again, it's reasonable to believe Auburn will move to No. 1 on Monday -- not necessarily because the Tigers would jump Gonzaga on any ballots, but because it would then be nearly impossible for even the goofiest of AP voters to keep Auburn as low as ninth or even sixth. And, remember, all Auburn has to do to pass Gonzaga is make up a four-point gap.
So, yeah, this is a big one.
The building is obviously sold-out. Students started camping out around the arena here early Friday. As of Friday night, standing room only tickets were priced no lower than $300 each on StubHub.
People want to see Auburn make history.
If the Tigers win, they'll improve to 18-1 overall, 7-0 in the SEC, and extend their winning streak to 15 games. If the Tigers win, they'll be 6-1 in Quadrant 1 games and 11-1 in the first two quadrants, which would represent the best such record in the nation. If the Tigers win, the body of work that Pearl accurately described earlier this week as the best in the nation would become even stronger considering it would then include a victory over a Kentucky team that's up to third at KenPom.com and 10th in the NET.
The stakes are high.
Bottom line, for ridiculous reasons, Auburn did not move to No. 1 in the AP poll last Monday and make history like that sign in the locker room asks the players to do. But if the Tigers get past Kentucky on Saturday afternoon, there's a good chance they'll make history this Monday, better late than never.