By Arnie Leshin
Charles Barkley can be controversial, he can be full of fun, he can be serious. On this night as an analyst on Inside the NBA, he showed his serious side.
He came close to shedding tears after watching the final minutes of Auburn University, the 5th seed, do something it had never done before. It has had conference champions, it has had national champions, but never made it to the Final Four of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. It had been a part of March Madness, but never made it to the final steps of the Big Dance.
Until now, and when he was asked for his reaction, the school’s finest basketball player first stared straight ahead and then responded.
“This is a time to cherish if you have lived through the good and bad years of Auburn University,” Barkley said. “I have, and this is such a great thing for the past, present and even future students, and if it I sound so serious, that’s what I am.”
Then he dialed Bo Jackson’s number and left a message. The same with Frank Thomas. These might be the three best student athletes the Division I school in Alabama has ever embraced and Barkley, who at 6-foot-4 played much taller on the basketball court for the War Eagles, and carried it over to his Hall of Fame years in the NBA.
And now he told it like it is. And when Jackson and Thomas got back to him, it was nothing but good. They probably did the “Tiger Walk”, one of the most imitated in the world of college sports.
And 29-9 Auburn and 4th seeded Texas Tech are in the Final Four for the first time. After finishing in a Big 12 first place tie with Kansas State, the Red Raiders are still playing while the Wildcats didn’t get past the second round.
And so is SEC champion Auburn. First it stunned Tennessee in the conference final, than stepped into the Big Dance, eliminating 4th seeded Kansas No.1 seed North Carolina and 2nd seed Kentucky, embarrassing the
Tar Heels, leading from start to finish and winning by 21 points, than hanging in with the Wildcats until the final buzzer of an overtime thriller.
Texas Tech had its own ball, cooling off 4thseed Buffalo, ousting 2nd seeded Michigan, and stunning top seeded Gonzaga.
That leaves the Cavaliers as the only No. 1 seed still in the hunt. They last made it this far in 2006. The Spartans have made the semifinals several times in recent years and is tournament tough.
So they both stand as the as the favorites to meet for the championship.
That’s all pre-game talk and upsets haven’t gone away.