Somehow, despite finishing third in the Southeastern Conference, rated again the nation's toughest, Auburn found itself just a No. 7 seed when the NCAA Tournament field was announced Sunday afternoon.
Auburn played a nonconference schedule that included current No. 1 Duke and Notre Dame on the road. The Tigers took Tennessee to overtime in Knoxville. Georgia finished tied for fourth in the SEC, lost by 18 points at Auburn, had the same 6-4 record in its last 10 games as Auburn and was a No. 3 seed. The only thing the Bulldogs had on their resume that was superior to Auburn was that they made it to the SEC Tournament championship game, yet they were seeded four spots higher. Go figure.
In years past, the committee has said the regular-season was what counted, not conference tournaments. Apparently, it was different this year. The result? If Auburn beats North Carolina State on Sunday, it will have to play two-time defending national champion UConn in Bridgeport, Conn., on Tuesday.
Women's basketball has some unique challenges. To draw large crowds, some teams need to play at home during the NCAA Tournament. That, of course, creates a disadvantage for their opponents.
But in its infinite wisdom, the NCAA has taken an unfortunate situation and made it worse. Before last year, teams had to earn the right to play at home. The top four seeds in each region were hosts for the first two rounds. Now, the sites are pre-set. That results in lower seeded teams having the homecourt advantage against higher seeds.
Coach Joe Ciampi
The women's game is good. It lacks, of course, the raw power and athleticism of the men's game, but the players are more fundamentally sound and more team-oriented than the bigger, stronger, faster men. Unfortunately, the administrators haven't made the same progress off the court that the players have made on the court.
UConn, the No. 2 seed in the East, can make it to the Final Four without leaving its home state. If it wins two games in Bridgeport, it will go to the Sweet 16 on its home court in Hartford.
Auburn coach Joe Ciampi, never one to be shy about expressing opinions, took it all in stride Sunday. He vowed the Tigers would be ready to play against North Carolina State on Sunday and, if they win, against UConn on Tuesday.
Ciampi has taken 16 of his 25 Auburn teams to the NCAA Tournament. He took three straight teams to the national championship game--1988-90. This season has been one of his better coaching jobs.
The Tigers lost point guard Taneisha Thompson and center Tia Miller to academics at the start of the second semester. Instead of sagging, they got better. After the Tigers lost 74-72 to Vanderbilt on a controversial foul call in the SEC Tournament, Ciampi vowed his team would make a statement in the NCAA Tournament.
They certainly have that opportunity.
The men's basketball season ended in despair Sunday night. The Tigers practiced Sunday afternoon in hopes of receiving an NIT bid. It didn't happen.
A season that started with high hopes ended with a 14-14 record and just five SEC wins. It would have to rank as the most disappointing season in Cliff Ellis' 10-year tenure as coach.
What that means for the future of the program remains to be seen. No one in the Auburn administration has mentioned making a coaching change, but no one has given Ellis a vote of confidence either. Chance are nothing is going to happen until Auburn hears the results of last month's hearing before the Committee on Infractions.
Meanwhile, the Auburn program languishes in limbo.
Until next time...