You've got to love these stories - especially when it's your team. Don't look now, but the hottest team in all of college basketball resides at a football school in East Alabama. Then again, judging from the results of the past year, maybe Auburn is a basketball school - if only for one year.
Following Auburn's 69-53 walloping of LSU on Saturday, suddenly the entire nation has taken notice of Jeff Lebo's no-name bunch. ESPN analyst Bobby Knight called the orange and blue Tigers the weekend's big winner. All of the so-called bracketologist who couldn't find Auburn on a map a week ago, now have them firmly on the tournament bubble with a heavy lean toward getting in. What a difference 40 minutes makes.
Count the regular season SEC champions among those believing in Auburn. "I don't think there's anybody in our league, maybe not anybody in the country, that's played as good a basketball as (Auburn) in the last 45 days," said LSU coach Trent Johnson said.
"Everybody talks about Kentucky and Florida as bubble teams in this league. You'll never hear Auburn's name in the mix, but I've had my share of postseason experiences. That's an NCAA Tournament-caliber team."
Lebo couldn't agree more with Johnson. "I just know that 10 league wins in this league has never happened before with a team with that many wins not getting in, Lebo said. "The way we're playing right now, I don't think that after this win against LSU, with us being the only team to beat LSU and Tennessee, the two top teams in our league, I don't think you can ignore that.
"I don't know what they look at. You can look at numbers all you want, but the numbers will not dictate how well our team is playing right now. I'm not one to toot my own horn, but I've got to for these guys. We've won eight out of nine and to say that we're not even in the mix is a slap in the face of our guys and the SEC in my opinion."
How good is Auburn? How's this for a stat: Eight of Auburn's 10 conference wins have come by at least 12 points. Speaking of wins, Saturday's victory gets Auburn to 21 on the season. Our little brothers to the north helped us and hurt us Sunday when they beat SEC East leader Tennessee at the buzzer, 70-67. The Bama victory keeps Tennessee at 10 conference wins, but increases their RPI.
There appears to be four fairly safe locks for the Big Dance heading into this week's SEC Tournament. Tennessee, LSU, South Carolina and Florida all appear to have their bags packed and ready to go. Auburn's 10 conference wins equal those of the Volunteers and South Carolina and is one better than Florida and two better than Kentucky. How do you let three of those teams in and not invite Auburn? Thankfully, that's a question a lot of the national commentators are asking today.
Lebo's team has a reasonable shot at making it to the finals of this week's tournament in Tampa. They will likely face the Gators (who open with Arkansas) in the second round. A win over Florida means a possible matchup with Tennessee - a team Auburn defeated in the final seconds on February 7th.
As we look down the road, it really comes down to this: A loss in the second round means Auburn is at the complete mercy of tournament officials. A loss in the semi-finals is still probably enough to squeak in. A finals appearance all but guarantees it. There you have it.
It's that easy. If only that were true...