Head coach Bruce Pearl explained in a press conference this Tuesday that his scheduling was strategic to prepare for tough competition in Maui. “Scheduling is a vital part of trying to build your resume,” Pearl said. 

The Auburn coach, going on his fifth year with the program, explained that the game against Mississippi College this Wednesday will be used as an opportunity for experience. The small division II school will protect Auburn’s rating percentage index, while still allowing for quality game experience. “It’ll be an opportunity to continue to try to grow and execute and learn,” said Pearl. 

The team is expecting to face tough competition next week, with Pearl even claiming, “…it’s almost like an elite 8 as opposed to the Maui Invitational.” Consistently top 10 ranked teams such as Duke, Gonzaga and Xavier will be among the eight teams competing with the Tigers in the three-day tournament. This will be the strongest collection of division I programs to participate in the tournament’s 35-year history. 

As for Chuma Okeke, Pearl confirmed that the player is healthy and adjusting to having a more dominant role on the team. Okeke was recently named SEC player of the week after setting an average of 19.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in his last two games. The sophomore has been pivotal to the team’s dynamic on the court. 

When guards Jared Harper and Bryce Brown had an “off night” against Washington, Okeke and others including Samir Doughty proved they could handle the slack. The different qualities and strengths of each player keep the team balanced when one or two key players are off and adds “dimensions” as put by coach Pearl. 

Austin Wiley has been a focus lately since coming back from a sprained foot. The 6-foot-11 center made his debut this season against Washington, in which his playing time was limited to just 13 minutes. The head coach made it clear that it’s essential 

Wiley gets another opportunity to work off some of the rust from his time off for recovery. Having their big man back on the court is crucial for the Tigers as they enter the tournament on Monday. 

Auburn will take on Mississippi College on Wednesday Nov. 14 at home. The game is to be aired on SEC Network+ at 7 p.m. The Tigers will head to Hawaii on Thursday and will play the first game of the tournament against Xavier on Monday.