It’s a classic underachiever in No. 1 Virginia against a football school in No. 5 Auburn in the first game of the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four from Minneapolis on Saturday.
The winner of this game faces either No. 3 Texas Tech or No. 2 Michigan State on Monday night for the national championship. Virginia probably would be favoured against both and Auburn an underdog against both, but it also depends on what happens in Saturday’s two games.
It’s the first-ever Final Four for Auburn, which of course is known more for its football program. Coach Bruce Pearl has worked miracles at the alma mater of Charles Barkley. It should be noted that Auburn was caught up in the FBI investigation into college basketball corruption that led to the firing of an assistant coach and the suspension of two players. Pearl was also fired from Tennessee years ago for recruiting violations. Long story short: Don’t be shocked if anything Auburn accomplishes this season is potentially vacated down the road.
Auburn (5) vs. Virginia (1) NCAA Tournament Point Spread and Betting
Virginia is in the third Final Four in school history and first since 1984. The Wahoos were the No. 1 overall seed in the 2018 NCAA Tournament and became the first-ever top seed to lose to a No. 16 – and it wasn’t even a close game. Coach Tony Bennett had largely been considered the best active coach yet to reach a Final Four. That’s no longer a monkey on his or Virginia’s back.
Auburn and Virginia last played in December 2009.
SEC Tournament champion Auburn is both lucky and deserving of a Final Four spot. Lucky because it probably should have lost in Round 1 to New Mexico State, but the Aggies missed two free throws in the final seconds (and then a jumper) that would have knocked out the Tigers. Deserving because then Auburn beat the three winningest programs in Division I history in the next three rounds: No. 4 Kansas, No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Kentucky to claim the Midwest Region title. Kentucky had been 2-0 vs. Auburn during the regular season.
The Tigers also played that UK Elite Eight game without excellent big man Chuma Okeke, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL against North Carolina after putting up 20 points and 11 rebounds. On the season, the sophomore averaged 12.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. Auburn is 8-2 ATS in its past 10 games.
This might be Bennett’s most talented team at Virginia as he has at least a few future NBA players, including NBA lottery pick in sophomore wing De’Andre Hunter, who is expected to turn pro regardless of what happens this weekend.
The ACC regular-season champion Cavs also are fortunate to be here. They weren’t overly threatened the first three rounds but should have lost to No. 3 Purdue in the South Region final. The Boilers led by three with five seconds left and UVA on the free-throw line. Ty Jerome made the first and missed the second. The rebound was tipped well into the backcourt by Mamadi Diakite as time wound down and chased down by speedy guard Kihei Clark. He fired a pass to an open Diakite, who hit a jumper near the free-throw line at the buzzer to force overtime, in which UVA would prevail. Crazy ending.
Virginia isn’t usually much fun to watch as it plays a plodding, slow-it-down style. Yet again this season, the Cavs led the nation in points allowed (55.4 ppg) thanks to Bennett’s “Pack Line Defence.” Virginia is 8-3 ATS in its past 11 non-conference games.