The numbers show the SEC has had a rough decade in the Final Four: Can Auburn buck the trend?
It’s been 12 years since we watched Billy Donovan and Florida cut down the nets for the second consecutive season. There hasn’t been anyone quite like that group, which earned its place in history as the closest thing to a dynasty as there can be in the modern era of college basketball.
In fact, that group accounted for more national titles than the SEC has in the 11 seasons since that 2007 season.
That’s right. Just 1 national title from 2008-18 shows that the Final Four hasn’t exactly been where SEC teams shine brightest.
It’s actually even worse than that when you look at it a little closer. Six of those 11 Final Fours didn’t feature an SEC team. Including the 2014 season when Florida and Kentucky made it, the SEC has a record of 3-5 in Final Four games since 2008. Villanova has more wins in the Final Four in the past 3 years alone (4) than the SEC has in the past 11.
If you want to dig into the percentages, the SEC accounted for just 16 percent (7-of-44) of the Final Fours in those 11 years. The last time an SEC won a Final Four game was in 2014 when Kentucky beat Wisconsin in a nail-biter.
This won’t come as much of a surprise, but Kentucky is the only SEC team that earned a Final Four victory during that stretch. The rest of the conference is just 0-2.
Auburn is not Kentucky. That means Bruce Pearl’s team is trying to do something that hasn’t been accomplished by a non-Kentucky SEC team since 2007 Florida. That is, get on that big NFL stadium stage and win a game.
Can the Tigers buck the trend?
Speaking of trends, the trend among SEC teams in the Final Four is to get there and have a horrible offensive showing. If Auburn can just be average by its own standards — the Tigers average 80.1 points per game — it’ll buck the SEC’s Final Four trend of poor shooting performances.
Below is every SEC team that made the Final Four from 2008-18 with their season scoring average and what their offensive output in the Final Four was:
South Carolina became the first SEC team in that stretch to score more than its season average in the Final Four … and that was by 1 point. That means in 7 of those 8 Final Four games, the SEC team scored less than its average. It breaks down to 11.6 points per game less than their regular season average that SEC teams scored in Final Four.
And obviously some of that is combination of things like playing against elite competition, having atypical shooting backgrounds in NFL stadiums and the basic premise of 18-22 year-old kids having some nerves playing in the biggest game of their lives.
But man, only 25 percent of the SEC’s 2008-18 Final Four teams hit 70 points. Given Auburn’s pace of play, not reaching that mark would suggest an extremely inefficient night. Then again, Virginia is the best defensive team in the country and it’s also the team that plays the slowest pace of any Division I squad.
In its historic run to reach its first Final Four, Auburn averaged 85.3 points per NCAA Tournament game while Virginia allowed just 57.8. Fire up the old “something has to give” cliché if you must, but it’s true.
Vegas believes it’ll be Auburn that gives into Tony Bennett’s team. That’s why the Cavaliers opened as 5.5-point favorites and the over/under was set at 130.5 (all of Auburn’s NCAA Tournament games have totaled at least 148 points).
But perhaps just as Auburn did in Kansas City over the weekend, it can rise above its underdog status and beat 2 more favorites. Based on the way the point spreads have gone so far, it seems likely that if the Tigers got past the top-seeded Cavaliers they’d be underdogs in a national championship.
After all, it’s not like Auburn has been to a national championship before. Shoot, it’s not like any non-SEC Kentucky team has been there since 2007 Florida.
Will Auburn make some more history? Or will it be more of the same struggles from the SEC in the Final Four?
That remains to be seen. Pearl always cites the preparation Auburn got playing in the SEC as the reason his team is peaking right now. Lord knows the Auburn faithful loves chanting “S-E-C! S-E-C!” in the final seconds of tournament victories.
It’s long overdue that the conference flexes its muscles in a football stadium while playing basketball.