Auburn’s already made a little March madness. And the postseason hasn’t even started yet.
Auburn made an improbable jump up to the No. 2 spot in the SEC Tournament’s seeding on Saturday, winning big at Tennessee before Kentucky charged back to beat Florida elsewhere in the league to clinch Auburn’s place.
Auburn will play at 6 p.m. next Friday in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals in Nashville, Tenn., stepping into one of the bracket’s most favorable positions.
Auburn will play the winner of Thursday’s game between the No. 7 seed Texas A&M and the No. 10 seed Missouri.
Auburn entered Saturday knowing it could fall as far as the No. 4 seed, and knowing it would take two separate pieces falling into place to lift the Tigers up to the No. 2 seed — both coming in the form of two rare SEC road wins.
But everything seemed to go right for Auburn on Saturday. And those pieces fell into place.
Auburn won then Kentucky made an improbable comeback at Florida later in the afternoon, rallying from 18 points down in the second half to win 71-70 in Gainesville.
Kentucky scored in the final 15 seconds to go up for the first time in the second half. Then Florida saw its last-second buzzer-beater bounce off the front of the rim, then off the backboard, then back off the front of the rim and out in a stunning finish.
Kentucky had already clinched the top seed in the conference tournament, finishing the season now 15-3 in the league. Auburn finished 12-6 in the SEC. Auburn takes the No. 2 seed holding a head-to-head tiebreaker with third-seeded LSU, which also finished 12-6.
Mississippi State is the No. 4 seed.
Florida would have taken the No. 2 seed holding a three-way tiebreaker over Auburn and LSU, but instead fell to 11-7 with the loss and tumbled all the way down to the No. 5 seed.
Auburn falling to the No. 4 seed would’ve put the Tigers on the same side of the bracket as Kentucky. The No. 3 seed is also less favorable compared to the No. 2 seed in part because the third-seeded team tips at around 8:30 p.m. Friday then hopes to advance into a short-turnaround situation in the 2:30 p.m. semifinal game on Saturday. The championship game is set for noon next Sunday.
“Third’s a tough slot in the SEC Tournament,” Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said postgame on the Auburn Sports Network’s broadcast of the Auburn-Tennessee game, rooting for Kentucky to come back as that game was still going on.
The SEC Tournament opens next Wednesday, on March 11 in Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville.
Auburn fans will remember that Auburn lost to both Texas A&M and Missouri this season. The team will have the chance at revenge on either in the quarterfinals. Auburn lost at Missouri 85-73 on Feb. 15 when Isaac Okoro was out with injury, and just this past week lost to Texas A&M 78-75 on Wednesday in a disappointing loss in the team’s home finale.
But as a top-four team, Auburn has a double-bye going into the tournament quarterfinals. On Wednesday the No. 12 seed plays the No. 13 seed and the No. 11 seed plays the No. 14 seed before the teams seeded fifth through 10th enter activity in the second round on Thursday.
Last season, Auburn entered as the No. 5 seed and won four straight games in four days to take the tournament championship.