The Auburn Tigers are on a 12-game winning streak. They won the SEC tournament in grand fashion. Then they beat the Blue Bloods of college basketball in consecutive weeks. But first, they had to survive the opening round matchup against the New Mexico State Aggies. If the Aggies made three foul shots or a 3-pointer, they would have advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the Tigers got a reprieve and have run roughshod over the competition that includes, Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky.
As the No. 5 seed, the Tigers have played the highest seed possible in each game. Now, they get the team that was headed to be consensus No. 1 if they won the ACC tournament title.
Auburn Tigers (30-9) Midwest Region Champs
Head Coach: Bruce Pearl (100-71) 5 seasons
South Region: No. 5 seed
SEC Tournament Champions
NCAA Tournament Wins: 4
1st round: 78-77 vs. No. 12 seed New Mexico State Aggies
2nd round: 89-75 vs. No. 4 seed Kansas Jayhawks
Sweet 16: 97-80 vs. No. 1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels
Elite 8: 77-71 vs. No. 2 seed Kentucky Wildcats
Final Fours: 1
National Semifinal opponent: Virginia Cavaliers
First and foremost, we must remember the Tigers are playing without Chuma Okeke. He is third on the team with 12 points and leads the Tigers with 6.8 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, Okeke suffered a torn ACL in the second half of the win over North Carolina. How long will the Tigers last without their versatile forward in the lineup?
Player To Watch: Jared Harper: Clearly, Jared Harper is the engine that makes the team go. He is averaging 15.4 points and 5.8 assists per game. The Virginia guards are going to have a difficult time keeping Harper out of the lane even with the pack line defense. A lot of this will depend on the speed of the tempo. Harper will need to push the ball at a fervent pace.
The Tigers will also need Bryce Brown to have a great shooting night. Brown leads the team with 16 points per game. Due to Okeke’s injury, Brown and Harper are the only double digit scorers for the Tigers. The accounted for 50 of the 77 points in the overtime win over Kentucky.
Can they get Anfernee McLemore or Danjel Purifoy to join them in the scoring column on Saturday? The two versatile forwards produced 14 points and 12 rebounds in the Elite 8 win. McLemore also blocked two shots with incredible flair. They just need everybody to step up their game to advance beyond the national semifinal. They had three bench players score double figures in the Sweet 16.
Keep in mind, the Tigers are first in 3-point makes and 2nd in 3-point attempts this season. The Tigers are No. 2 in 3-point shooting at 39.4 percent this season. Okeke was a factor from beyond the arc, but Brown and Harper attempt around 15 3-pointers per game. So, they will get up these shots no matter what. Still, the Tigers must be content with taking good shots.
The Tigers are scoring 80.2 points per game. They are giving up 68.9 points per game. They have the No. 10 offensive rating in college basketball. However, their defensive rating is at No. 74.
This will be Auburn’s first trip to the Final Four. Their ability to play in the moment will be key to their success. They must remember, the Cavaliers haven’t played on this stage in a long time. Therefore, the Tigers have as much experience as any team when it comes to the Final Four stage.