When it comes to the NCAA Tournament this year, in the SEC it just means …
For a league that got six bids – second-most of any conference – to the NCAA championship, and was generally regarded as one of the best basketball leagues in the country this season, this March has indeed been madness.
The Razorbacks are the only SEC team to survive the first weekend.
No "more," despite the league's tagline.
No. 2 seed Auburn bowed out with a 79-61 loss to No. 10 seed Miami Sunday night in Greenville, S.C. It ended what had felt like a magical run for the Tigers this season, with Auburn ranked No. 1 in the country at one point and considered one of the top teams all year.
However, when it mattered most, Auburn’s top two players – freshman Jabari Smith and sophomore Walker Kessler – showed up the least.
The 6-foot-10 Smith and 7'1" Kessler are projected NBA first-round draft picks should they leave – and Smith certainly is expected to go - yet they were neutralized by a Miami team that has six players with at least four years of college experience, including three sixth-year “super seniors.”
Miami used its four guards and lone big man to play a five-out system on offense that forced Kessler away from the basket. And when Kessler went to the bench with his second foul with just four minutes gone in the game, the Hurricane guards sliced up a Tiger defense that had been one of the best in the country all season.
Kessler finished the game going 0-for-6 shooting – and as every basketball coach will say, you don’t have to make every shot but you certainly can’t miss them all - with only two rebounds. His two points came on two free throws just 1:24 into the game. No one could have imagined it would be his only points for the game.
The Tigers needed Smith to step up and carry the team, but Smith struggled, hitting just three of 16 shots (1-for-8 from three-point range) for 10 points – although he did have 15 rebounds.
Despite the struggles, Auburn only trailed 33-32 at the half. However, Miami outscored Auburn 46-29 in the second half. Kessler and Smith were a combined 1-for-11 in the second half as Miami pulled away. The Tigers missed 12 of their last 13 shots over the last six minutes of the game, while the ‘Canes went on a 13-3 run to close out the win.
Auburn shot just 30.4% (21 of 69) against Miami, the third time in the past six games the Tigers were under 40%. The Tigers’ 61 points were its fewest in a game since Jan. 25.
Auburn has been so good this season that it tended to mask deficiencies. But against a Miami team that doesn’t turn the ball over (seven in two tournament games), the Tigers turned the ball over 13 times. Southern Cal, Miami’s first-round opponent, turned the ball over 18 times).
It was not how any Tiger fan envisioned this season ending. Auburn's 28 wins are the third-most in school history, and the team reached No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time Jan. 24 and remained there for three weeks. Auburn won the SEC regular season, but lost five of its last 11 games.
If it’s any consolation, this was not how basketball fans in the SEC envisioned this tournament season going. Auburn and Kentucky were No. 2 seeds, with Tennessee a No. 3 and Arkansas a No. 4. Alabama and LSU came in both seeded sixth in their regionals.
The Razorbacks are the lone SEC team still playing and will have their hands full against No. 1 seed Gonzaga Thursday.
If there is any solace for SEC fans, this has been a tournament of upsets. Take Miami for example. The 10th-seeded Hurricanes will advance to play No. 11 seed Iowa State in a Sweet Sixteen game no one saw coming.
As for the SEC … well, spring football has already begun around the league.
Because as every SEC fan knows ... it just means more.
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