The 2019 March Madness tournament has been anything but ordinary. Most of the public’s favorites, including the Duke Blue Devils, haven’t even made it to the Final Four. However, one unlikely team has astonished with its outstanding performance. It has taken down giants the likes of Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky. It is Auburn.
Auburn has never made it to the Final Four before. In fact, basketball has never been a strong point for the school. So, one cannot help but wonder how the Auburn Tigers made it past all these giants.
A Perilous and Explosive Journey
Auburn had a terrible start for this season. It suffered a two-point loss against the Wildcats in Lexington in January. It then suffered another humiliating loss by 27 points to Kentucky, after which its fate seemed sealed as always. However, as coach Pearl recalls, he had a talk with his team and admitted that although they had lost the battle, they would do everything in their power not to waste the next opportunity; and they did so.
Auburn would go on to humble Kansas in the first weekend of the tournament, and it wouldn’t stop there. North Carolina, a favorite with the public, would also fold to Auburn in the Sweet 16 round. This match was full of upsets even for Auburn who temporarily lost their favorite star. Chuma Okeke tore his ACL during the match against North Carolina, and it left his team devastated. However, the team pulled together and went ahead to win the game anyway. Okeke was wheeled in as the game was still in progress and was met by cheers. The crowd also chanted his name when his team eventually put North Carolina down.
However, it is the Auburn’s faceoff with Kentucky that would put Auburn in the Final Four and on the map. Kentucky had the upper hand for most of the match and was poised to take the win in the second-half. However, Harper came through with only 38 seconds left and forced overtime with a layup. He went forward to kit Kentucky out with a pair of layups during the extra period and scored 12 points.
Going on Forward
The unfortunate incident with Chuma Okeke exposed both the strengths and weaknesses of Auburn. Okeke is the team’s best player and the rest look up to him for inspiration and guidance. Coach Pearl admits this much, “There’s no question we missed Chuma because you can’t replace him. He’s our most valuable player. He’s kind of our go-to guy other than Jared (Harper) or Bryce (Brown). But the guys have confidence in each other and the team as a whole. And I think that confidence going in, our guys didn’t think we can’t win without him. We may miss him, but the other guys would step up.”
The team has a lot to be proud of with its new-found strength and confidence. It will certainly exploit it in the upcoming game against Virginia, and hopefully in the championship, if its winning streak continues.
Facing Off against Virginia
Auburn is set to face its biggest challenge thus far: Virginia. Virginia is a No. 1 seed and a favorite with the public. Auburn, on the other hand, is a fifth seed and this is its first time in the Final Four. However, there is no telling how the match will turn out considering all the tricks Auburn has up its sleeves; and don’t forget that the team’s top player, Okeke, will be fit and ready to go by then.
Auburn’s match against Virginia will take place on 6th April in Minneapolis. The stadium will be packed and those who don’t have the tickets can stream March Madness 2019 Final Four live via the internet. Whichever way you opt for, just make sure you don’t miss it as Auburn may very well make history as it is already doing.