If You Have a Pulse, How Can You not Love this Auburn Team?
KANSAS CITY, Missouri — I am supposed to give an Auburn-Virginia preview right now, but you know what, I am going to get on my soapbox a little bit. Auburn fans, I hope you realize that you are watching the greatest Auburn basketball team of all time. This team has shown more heart and resilience than I have ever seen in a basketball team. This team deserves your support, and by golly, it deserves you to show up in Minneapolis to support them against Virginia.
This is a team that some in the Auburn Family were all but abandoning a couple months ago. You know what? I think they heard your gripes, and boy, did they ever respond. I do not care who you are. It it impossible not to love this team. This rag-tag bunch of misfits right now is on the craziest run in the tournament of any team that has ever been to the Final Four.
Only one other team in the history of college basketball has ever beaten Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky in the same tournament. Until this team that stands here before you made it number two. Not only did this team do that; they did it as the lower seed in all three games. This team refuses to lose. They have not lost in the month of March. They have the most wins of any Auburn team ever. They have the longest active winning streak in the country. They have the longest win streak in Auburn history. If you are Virginia, you better hope all the Hibachi restaurants in Minneapolis go out of business this week because this team has yet to lose when they get their fried rice the night before the game.
This team just did something incredible by advancing to the Final Four. The significance cannot be overstated. It was the single greatest win by the Auburn basketball program of all time. In all honesty, the two biggest wins ever have happened in the last 48 hours. Not only did they beat a dadgum good Kentucky team and advance to the Final Four; they did it without their best player. The way this team rallied together in the wake of Chuma Okeke’s injury is truly admirable. They went into a game in which they were at a clear disadvantage just two days after losing their unassuming, star power forward. Instead of backing down, this team bowed up against Kentucky. It was win at all cost and win by committee as the big men for Auburn took turns being physical with the Kentucky star big men, Reid Travis and P.J. Washington. Granted, a lot of these “turns” were determined by fouls, but nevertheless, the team refused to quit and refused to lose. Just when things maybe did not look the best for Auburn down five points at half, injured Chuma Okeke was wheeled into the arena, and right then and there, the air in the building changed. Auburn would not — and could not — lose with their fallen comrade in attendance. His presence changed everything. Everyone on the bench and wearing Auburn gear in the stands knew it. The only people who were perhaps blindsided by the shift in the arena were those on the Kentucky bench and the fans wearing Kentucky blue.
The saying with baseball goes, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?” Well, let me say, how can you not be romantic about this Auburn team? This team has shown heart that has not been seen out of an Auburn team ever. Auburn just beat Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky in a 10-day period. Guess how many offers Auburn has on their roster from those three schools. It is literally one. Danjel Purifoy is the only player that got an offer from any of those schools. He was offered by Kentucky. That is it. Not Jared Harper. Not Bryce Brown. Not Anfernee McLemore. Not even Chuma Okeke. Bruce Pearl just took a group of overlooked and under-recruited players that hardly anyone wanted and just whooped the three biggest basketball programs in college sports.
Speaking of Bruce Pearl, give this man credit for what he has done. Pearl took over a program six years ago that was, in all honesty, in shambles. There are three main things that go into coaching: recruiting, development and X’s and O’s/strategy. Pearl took over for arguably the worst coach in Auburn history at all three aspects, and you know what? Pearl did not complain or whine about it for a second. Instead, he went to work. It took time and patience, but goodness gracious, this man has done this best coaching job in America to bring this squad all the way to this point in just five years. There’s not a single Auburn fan who would have thought that Auburn would be in the Elite Eight right now, much less the Final Four.
Guess what, Auburn fans… This is just the beginning. This is the foundation. Pearl wants to be in Auburn. He wants to make this place his home. He deserves to be paid in a way that makes sure that he will never leave. Auburn loses three seniors in Bryce Brown, Horace Spencer and Malik Dunbar, but Auburn has already signed a group of five incoming freshman that will supply a lot of talented bodies to replace those that are lost. If things fall Auburn’s way with Jared Harper and Austin WIley, this next Auburn squad could be the deepest in the history of Auburn. Opposing teams thought this current Auburn team was deep and could run? Wait until Auburn can throw 12 or 13 bodies at their opponents.
I am not saying Auburn is going to be as good next year. I am, however, saying that Auburn’s future, to steal a quote from Auburn’s football coach Gus Malzahn, “is bright.” There is no reason to think that Auburn is going to slow down any time soon. If anything, look for Auburn to take a significant jump forward on the recruiting trail with their head coach now having an Final Four under his belt.
Pearl can now sell his program as a championship contender. He now has a tournament track record that shows that he can take his guys and beat the blue bloods in the country. If I am the rest of the Southeastern Conference, I am shaking in my boots to think about what Bruce Pearl can turn this Auburn basketball program into. It would not take much for him to become the greatest Auburn basketball coach of all time. It would also not take much for this man to turn this basketball program into a national power. If he gets another Elite Eight under his belt, look out, America, because this man might bust the doors down on what we have become accustomed to in the college basketball world.
Go ahead and give the man a raise. He makes John Calipari sweat at night. He makes the whole conference nervous, especially that team that just hired a new coach across the state. It would be a real shame for the conference if Pearl got a lifetime contract at Auburn. It might just create a monster. Forget sleeping giants. Pearl has the ability to create a giant in his own right— Frankenstein-style, and the rest of the SEC is terrified of the monster that he has the ability to create.