What if I told you in November that when the Final Four was set, Auburn would be a part of the most-exclusive club?
You’d tell me to get the hell out of here.
Auburn is going to the Final Four. They did it for Chuma. They did it for everyone on the Plains. There are countless long-suffering Auburn basketball fans who’ve never seen this kind of a basketball season, and I hope that every single one of them gets to properly enjoy this run. If you needed any more reason to believe that you’re watching the best team in school history, let me run some #FACTS by you.
- The Tigers have won 30 games so far this season. It’s the highest total ever for Auburn.
- We’re witnessing the greatest streak in program history. During the current 12-game winning streak, Auburn has beaten teams ranked #3 (North Carolina), #6 (Tennessee x 2), #7 (Kentucky), and #17 (Kansas). Nearly half of the wins have come against teams ranked in the top twenty.
- The Midwest Region was blue blood central. Auburn went through — in order — Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky. Those three teams ranked 1, 2, and 3 all-time in total wins.
- Auburn beat the above three teams by a combined 37 points. The only close game was today’s win over the Wildcats.
How bout it, Bruce?
This isn’t supposed to happen at Auburn.
Auburn’s the place where you just have to not suck at basketball to keep everyone happy. Auburn’s the place where you’re supposed to provide a fun little Friday night sideshow during football season, but everyone’s really concentrating on what Gus Malzahn and his group are doing across the street at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Bruce Pearl’s right. He created a top 25 basketball program. Not team. Program.
How can you watch this run and not want to be involved, even in the smallest and most insignificant of ways, with this program? Bruce Pearl has accomplished the most impressive feat in Auburn athletics’ history by taking a basketball team to the Final Four.
It’s even more impressive considering what the SEC has become recently. The arms race of coaching hires when Bruce came on board — Rick Barnes, Ben Howland, Avery Johnson (RIP), and others — made the conference as tough as it’s ever been. And Bruce was tasked with one of the tougher rebuilding processes!
Empty gyms on Senior Day. No fan support. A new arena and nothing to fill it with. An uncaring and cold leader in Tony Barbee. History deemed that Auburn would make a complete meh hire and piddle around to the occasional win. Heck, if we made a tournament, it would’ve been a huge deal.
Bruce threw himself into the mess and cleaned it up. He took everyone else’s table scraps and turned it into a pretty good meal. Finally, he found guys that were as hungry for redemption as he was. Bryce Brown, Horace Spencer, Jared Harper... all of those guys came to Auburn to make something of themselves and the basketball program. It worked. Two SEC Championships and a Final Four later, and they’ve accomplished more than any other group in Tiger history.
I went into today thinking that we didn’t have much of a chance against Kentucky without Chuma’s help. He had been the best player on the team for the past few weeks. He kickstarted the run with his huge three against Georgia, and he continued it by clowning Tennessee, and dominating North Carolina before the injury. I was wrong. I lost faith.
We’ve got Jared. And that guy Bryce Brown shootin’ that thing from way downtown.
Both of those stars shone brightest today, combining for 50 points and taking control in the second half when we needed a spark. I have no doubt that if things had worked out a little differently in the end of regulation, and one of them had taken that final shot, we’d be anointing them as official saints of Auburn athletics.
This postgame press conference exchange between Bruce Pearl and Bryce Brown is [chef kissing fingers] pic.twitter.com/rN2PXuCaaY— Tom Green (@Tomas_Verde) April 1, 2019
We stuck with it today against a huge, physical team. Kentucky got a ton of leeway in terms of rough play, and Auburn took each punch. They turned the punishment around in a different way and got the ultimate revenge.
Auburn’s going to have to create room at the Arena for some more banners.
SEC Tournament Champions.
Leave room for another couple of banners as well. If the past two weeks are any indication, this train’s not stopping anytime soon. Auburn’s not going to be phased by another 1-seed. Auburn’s not going to be phased by the moment. They’ll be taking on another team bereft of Final Four experience in Virginia. It’ll be a perfect clash of styles next Saturday with the Cavaliers’ slow, plodding, defensive strategy and Auburn’s high-flying, turnover-causing, three-point-bombing personality. Personally, I’m not betting against this team.
War. Damn. Eagle. Final Four, everyone. Did you ever think that this could happen?