Kentucky. Kansas. North Carolina. What do those three schools have in common? They rank as the top-three winningest teams in the college basketball.
What else? Auburn’s trounced them all.
In just a matter of 10 days, the fast-paced Tigers have swatted Division I’s best out of their path to the Final Four in Minneapolis. Never mind that the No. 5 seed played the little guy to No. 4 Kansas in the second round, No. 1 North Carolina in the Sweet 16 and No. 2 Kentucky in the Elite Eight.
So why could they win the national championship next Monday? The better question might be, how could they not?
Auburn, a football powerhouse, might be new to this whole college basketball’s elite scene. And the Tigers have certainly played David to many Goliaths this postseason. But their spot in the Final Four is no fluke. They’re the hottest team in the country, having won the past 12 games, including the SEC tournament, in usually thrilling fashion. No backcourt is playing better, with Jared Harper and Bryce Brown carrying the team at times.
And even when one of Auburn’s top players in sophomore forward Chuma Okeke went down with an ACL tear against North Carolina, the Tigers still rebounded from a shaky first half to eliminate Kentucky in overtime and make the program’s first Final Four.
Every doubt, they’ve overcome, from rebounding worries against North Carolina to shooting woes against Kentucky. Auburn will still be the lowest seed of the bunch and must stop No. 1 Virginia for a chance to meet No. 2 Michigan State or No. 3 Texas Tech in the final. But since when is rooting for a dark horse not fun?
“It just goes back to having the chip on our shoulder,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “… We became more of the underdogs, and that’s when I feel like we’re at our best. That’s how it’s going to be from here on out.”