Somebody dropped the ball.
Whoever was supposed to tell Auburn that they couldn't beat Tennessee in the SEC Basketball Tournament didn't get around to telling Coach Bruce Pearl and his undersized bunch. They won the SEC tourney by taking four games in four days, including a 20 point blowout of the former No. 1 Vols.
Then came the NCAA Tournament and few picked the No. 5 seeded Tigers to win more than their opening game over New Mexico State. That same "someone" forgot to tell Bruce Pearl's squad that they didn't stand a chance when it came to the likes of the Kansas Jayhawks (AU won 89-75), No. 1 seed North Carolina (AU 97-NC 80), and Kentucky (AU 77 - UK 71).
Now the Tigers are breathing the rarefied air reserved for the top four teams in the tournament. Yep, we're in the Final Four... joining 33 other teams that have only gone once — including newcomer this year, Texas Tech. By the way, those three team that lost to Auburn — Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina — have a combined 52 visits to the Final Four and we beat them in consecutive appearances. Not too shabby, I'd say.
It's interesting what motivates a team to win. Take for example when Auburn's Chuma Okeke tore his left ACL in the second half against North Carolina. He was the leading rebounder on the team and the third leading scorer. That same "somebody" forgot to tell the rest of the team that Okeke's untimely departure from the court would serve as an inspiration to the rest of the squad which went on to take down the No.1 seeded Tar Heels by a whopping 17 points.
Quite a performance by a team that many had written off before they even took to the court in Salt Lake City for their first tournament game. I even heard from AU naysayers who picked the Tigers to be a "one and done," "flash in the pan," "fluke" team that had "lucked into winning the SEC."
I once read a quote from man who was a terrific athlete who said he discovered that the harder his team practiced, the luckier they got. I don't think there was an inordinate amount of luck involved in Auburn's performance leading up to its first-ever Final Four appearance — just a lot of hard work and dedication to the game.
No one is happier this time of year than the NCAA, which oversees the Men's and Women's Basketball Championships. It has (approximately) 1,090 men's and 1,100 women's teams competing in three divisions.
For serious sports fans, it's no secret that the single biggest money-maker for the NCAA — by far — is the Men's National Basketball Tournament. In 2017, it was reported that the NCAA made nearly $844.3 million on the three-week tournament.
The NCAA has an agreement with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting that runs through 2032. Based on that deal, the TV rights alone should eventually move past the $1-billion mark each year. They also make big bucks from ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and TV advertisements tied to the tournament.
But you know, if you had been at Toomer's on Sunday afternoon after Auburn won their way into the Final Four for the first time in history, I don't think a single one of them was concerned one bit about how much money basketball raises.
They were all Auburn Tigers, who believe in their school ... and love it.