Auburn vs. Kentucky - NCAA Tournament, Elite Eight

Auburn's Bryce Brown (2) celebrates during the second half of the Midwest Regional final game against Kentucky in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Note: This is the first in a series of stories profiling War Tampa, the TBT team adopted by many Auburn fans ahead of its in-quarantine game July 4.

Auburn fans might have saved the tournament for their newfound favorite summer team.

They were a tremendous help at least, Tampa club general manager Matt Moschella said this week.

For the last three years, his team has played a few prize-money tournaments in Florida every summer, with trips to the nationwide The Basketball Tournament being highlights in 2018 and 2019. This year, two regulars, LaRon Smith and Desean Murray, suggested inviting a couple more players from Auburn, Bryce Brown and Horace Spencer — and with them came a flock of loyal Auburn fans and plenty of excitement. The team went with it, switching its name from Tampa 20/20 to War Tampa to welcome the support.

It was a fortunate thing, too, after TBT cut its field down from 64 teams in 2019 to just 24 in quarantine in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.

That fan support may well have saved the team’s spot on the bracket, in a year where those spots are as hard to come by as ever.

“When LaRon and Desean brought up the idea of Horace and Bryce, it was a no-brainer — and then, the Auburn fans were fantastic,” Moschella said this week as the team gears up for its planned trip to the in-quarantine tournament in Ohio. “My original plan, I’m not going to lie to you, was keeping it Tampa 20/20 and maybe just changing the colors to orange and blue, but with me and TBT discussing it, it was a no-brainer to switch it to War Tampa.

“And then the fans blew it up and I think honestly it was a great help for us getting selected into this top 24.”

War Tampa is set to play House of ’Paign on July 4 on ESPN or ESPN2 in the first round of the single-elimination The Basketball Tournament.

House of ’Paign boasts itself as an Illinois alumni team which embraces its connection to campus in Champaign, Ill.

As Tampa 20/20, Moschella’s team only picked up one win in TBT in the past two years, but as the field was being selected for this year’s tournament, War Tampa boasted some of the best fan support on social media of any applicant team. Wednesday, War Tampa had far and away the most fans registered as ‘supporters’ on TBT’s website, with the site listing 1,416 registered supporters ahead of second-place Carmen’s Crew which has 853. Carmen’s Crew, made of Ohio State alums, happens to be one of the tournament’s favorites and is its No. 1 overall seed, and it happens to await the winner of 17th-seeded War Tampa and 16th-seeded House of ’Paign in the second round — but War Tampa has more online support than even that team, or any other, and that couldn’t have been ignored as TBT drew its field.

It’s easy to see why Auburn fans are excited, hopeful to see orange and blue and some familiar faces back on the court for the first time since the virus’ spread. The same goes for basketball-starved fans around the country who haven’t had much to watch since March Madness was canceled and the NBA was put on pause.

“You know everyone this year is going to be watching,” Moschella said. “This year in particular, this is probably the best exposure for any of these guys that they’ll probably get this year.”

Brown and Spencer were senior leaders on Auburn’s magic run to the Final Four last year. Murray played at Auburn during the 2017-18 season after Smith played at Auburn during the 2016-17 season.

TBT is scheduled to run July 4-14 in a quarantine bubble in Columbus, Ohio under strict coronavirus testing. Moschella said on Tuesday personnel and players got in-home testing kits this week that were to be sent back for testing on Wednesday. If all War Tampa personnel test clear, they plan to travel to Ohio on Sunday and be tested again on Monday. During their stay they’ll be confined to a hotel with others who have been cleared by testing.

TBT has announced that War Tampa’s game will be the third game of the day on July 4 and that all games will be televised on ESPN or ESPN2, but final tipoff times and channel information have yet to be announced.

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