Head coach Bruce Pearl and the rest of the Auburn Tigers celebrate after beating Kentucky and earning a spot in the Final Four. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There’s all this new blood in Final Four, while we look on enviously

Do you ever get the feeling that there’s a big party going on, and you’re not invited?

OK, that’s most days for me. 

But even those who are far cooler, far more plugged into the cultural zeitgeist — as well as those who may actually know what zeitgeist means — have reason to feel left out today. That is, if they are of a Georgia persuasion and they care one whit about college basketball.

Great times are to be had seemingly everywhere, regardless of NCAA Tournament pedigree.

Everywhere but here.

Just down I-85 a bit, the young citizens of Auburn have taken to the streets this weekend to festoon Toomer’s Corner in toilet paper, a minor act of vandalism thought to be limited strictly to football. But then Auburn’s basketball team beat regal North Carolina and Kentucky to score the school’s first Final Four appearance. And there was discovered a whole new reason to engage in this two-ply celebration.

The pelts on Auburn’s wall in this tournament are of the highest quality — consecutive victories over Kansas, the Tar Heels and the Wildcats. Go back in time and fetch Wooden’s UCLA Bruins — the Tigers will be happy to stomp on that tradition, too. 

The Loveliest Village on the Plains also is the happiest today, quite unbothered by the fact that NCAA investigators could set up a permanent substation right there on the corner of Magnolia Avenue and College Street. Or that Auburn’s all-time NCAA tournament leader in career points and — Chuck Person — just pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit bribery while a member of the Tigers staff. Or the USA Today headline leading into the Sweet 16 wasn’t terribly kind to their head coach: “Auburn’s Bruce Pearl symbolizes the rot in college athletics.” Winning just seems to make everything better, even if it’s but a mirage. 

Pearl, overseeing a program waist deep in the FBI’s examination of college basketball, just climbs into that big-wheel truck in his mind and powers through the mud. The out-sized personality and the overwrought franticness he brings to the sideline — and somehow transfers to his team — has gotten him this far.

If nothing else, he’s entertaining. You get the feeling Pearl doesn’t coach so much as he performs his own interpretation of William Shatner portraying a kernel of exploding popcorn. Other coaches may be animated. Pearl conducts a 40-minute desperate plea for attention (or more, as in overtime against Kentucky).     

Through it all, Auburn revels in making it to a place in basketball it seldom even dreamed of visiting.

And it is not the only newbie going to Minneapolis next week. Fully one-half of the Final Four is made up of fresh meat. Texas Tech will be a first-timer, too.

Think of the stampedes that must have set off in Lubbock.

A third component, Virginia, is returning to the Final Four for the first time since 1984.

(That’s just one year after Georgia made its lone Final Four push. So, in other words, it’s just about since forever. And for the record, Georgia Tech has two Final Fours, 1990 and 2004, and is overdue).

If we take away no other message from how this tournament has narrowed to these finalists, it’s just how accessible all this basketball fun can be. And it further highlights just how irksome it is that no team with Georgia in its name ever seems to join the party anymore.

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About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.