Bryce Brown

Bryce Brown (2) leads Auburn with 17 points a game. Dakota Sumpter/Auburn Athletics

Dakota Sumpter

Even Kentucky is chasing Auburn.

The vaunted Wildcats aren’t leading the Southeastern Conference standings. Instead, it’s Auburn, and the Tigers are ahead by quite a good margin.

Auburn is 21-2 overall and 9-1 in the league. Tennessee, which already has lost to the Tigers, are in second place at 7-3, while third-place Kentucky is 6-4.

Only eight games remain in the SEC schedule, so if Auburn can hold on for the next month or so, it will bring home its first league men’s basketball regular-season championship since 1999.

Five things to know about this year’s Auburn basketball team:

1. Missing duo

Former assistant coach Chuck Person was arrested on federal charges, as the FBI claims he accepted money to direct players to financial advisors, and two starters from last year, center Austin Wiley and forward Danjel Purifoy, have missed the season because of their involvement in the probe. According to a CBS Sports report, the two players are going to test the NBA market after the season.

Even so, two newcomers have softened the blow of losing Purifoy and Wiley. DeSean Murray (11.2 points, 7.0 rebounds), a 6-foot-5 junior who played two seasons a Presbyterian before transferring, and 6-8 freshman Chuma Okeke (7.9, 5.3) have posted numbers comparable to Purifoy (11.4, 4.7) and Wiley (8.8, 4.7).

2. Fast pace

Auburn has won with a high-tempo attack. According to teamrankings.com, the Tigers lead the SEC in possessions per game (75) and points (86).

No SEC team has scored that much since the 1996 Kentucky team averaged 91.6. Auburn has scored at least 90 points in three of the last four games, after topping 90 three teams all of last season.

3. Bryce as nice

Auburn junior Bryce Brown, a 6-foot-3 guard from Stone Mountain, Ga., has developed into the Tigers' top scoring threat. A full-time starter for the first time in his career, he is averaging a team-best 17 points a game, which is more than double the 7.5 he put up last season.

His shooting percentage (42.3) and 3-point percentage (43.8) is the best of his career, too.

4. What’s left

Auburn's only SEC loss came at Alabama on Jan. 17, but the Tigers will host the Tide on Feb. 21. Also, there's a date with Kentucky on Feb. 14.

Auburn also lost to Temple in the first month of the season. The Owls are now 13-10 and eighth in the American Athletic Conference.

5. NCAA hopes

Auburn has made the NCAA tournament only three times since 1988 and not at all since 2003. Barring a historic collapse, the Tigers seem like a lock to make it this year.

Joe Lunardi, the ESPN bracket expert, has Auburn as the No. 2 seed in the South Region, playing Wright State in the first round. USA Today's Shelby Mast projects Auburn as a No. 1 seed in the West bracket, facing Florida Gulf Coast.

 

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.