After two weeks of unforgettable March Madness play, both No. 5-seed Auburn and No. 3-seed Texas Tech are this year’s Cinderella teams. No one really saw either team coming, or at least the Red Raiders, but everyone should have seen the Tigers coming.
Auburn, which was ranked No. 11 to start the season, was the hottest team heading into the Big Dance. The Tigers won six of their final seven regular-season games and won four more in a row to capture the SEC Tournament title.
Now, head coach Bruce Pearl’s team is riding a 12-game winning streak after taking down No. 12 New Mexico State, No. 4 Kansas, No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Kentucky in the Midwest Regional to advance to the biggest stage this weekend in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
There are several factors as to why the Tigers are in the Final Four, and here’s a look at the five biggest one before they face Virginia at U.S. Bank Stadium:
1. Bryce Brown
Down the stretch, Brown has carried this team on his back when they needed him. Whether it is making a key 3-pointer or driving inside, Brown has been the most consistent player on this team and has stepped it up big time for the Tigers.
2. Hot Outside Shooting
Auburn’s bread and butter throughout this entire tournament run has been its 3-point shooting. At one point in the first half of the Elite Eight, Kentucky was up by 10 points. Then, boom, boom, boom, before you knew it, Auburn took the lead. The same thing happened in the North Carolina game. You can’t have a scoring lapse against Auburn or you could find yourself out of the game early.
3. Auburn’s Inside Attack
On rare occasions, like in the Kentucky game, Auburn hits a brick wall with 3-pointers. For most teams, that would be the beginning of the end, but not for this team. The Tigers’ paint attack, which is primarily led by Brown and Jared Harper, has really taken over when the Tigers needed it. When the three-ball stopped falling against the Wildcats, Auburn drove inside and it helped save the lead and win the game.
4. The Tigers Were NCAA Tournament Ready
This was one of the best years for SEC basketball with seven teams in the NCAA Tournament, including four in the Sweet 16. The Tigers were tested a lot in the SEC this season, and the stiffer competition prepared them for whatever was going to be thrown at them in March.
5. Bruce Pearl
Bruce Pearl has turned this whole program around in just a month’s time. Nearly two months ago, Auburn found itself with a .500 conference record. Now, this team is in the Final Four. Because of Pearl’s leadership and coaching abilities, the Tigers have fought through injuries, a losing streak, and NCAA distractions. There’s no doubt Pearl has done a masterful job getting his team to this point.