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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

Basketball's new normal: You just lost to Auburn

The best college basketball team in the country, led by the best college basketball coach in the country, will play the biggest college basketball game in the nation Saturday in the best college basketball atmosphere in the land.

Kentucky will be there, too.

Welcome to the Jungle, the Twilight Zone and the Upside Down, where Auburn has become the No. 2 team in the national polls and the No. 1 program in the SEC, where that fresh and rare No. 2 ranking did not satisfy Auburn fans and a lot of us neutral observers, too, who believe the 17-1 Tigers have earned the top spot for the first time in school history.

Leave it to @icyywen Wendell Green Jr. to go deep and hit nothing but net with the perfect response from the only Division I team still unbeaten in regulation: "Rather be No. 1 in April."

Which is entirely possible, a point that should not be lost in the regularly scheduled and wildly entertaining unsocial media cyclones unleashed by unanimous No. 1 Auburn Twitter. You don't have to be "batshit crazy" - as Bruce Pearl has described Green's 2 Fast 2 Furious running buddy, K.D. Johnson - to believe this team is too legit to call it quits before the final weekend.

Green and Johnson are just the first wave of the tsunami of talent and toughness Pearl has put together. How do you contend with them as well as KD-smooth Jabari Smith, one-man block party Walker Kessler, "Honey Badger" lockdown defender Zep Jasper and returning-to-form Allen Flanigan, plus a highly skilled bench mob that squeezes every ounce out of every minute? There may not be a deeper, more balanced or more together team in the country. There certainly isn't a team more ready, willing and able to Karate Kid crane-kick your feelings on your own floor.

With Pearl leading this fast-twitch parade, feeding the famished undergraduate inhabitants of the Jungle - who are camping out in Arctic conditions as we speak to secure Saturday's choicest seats - Auburn basketball is bathing in that so-called spirit that is not afraid. Pearl is not the first head coach to shine a bright light through the program's decades of dreariness, but he has managed to take the best of Joel Eaves, Sonny Smith and Cliff Ellis and take it up a notch.

All the way to the school's and state's first Final Four in 2019. To 111 wins and counting over the last 4 1/2 seasons, the most of any SEC school, six more than Kentucky. To the brink of the program's first No. 1 ranking at the moment. To a giddy new normal of 25-win seasons and consistent championship contention.

Beat No. 12 Kentucky, which won't be easy the way the dangerous 15-3 Wildcats are growing, and that top rank should come. Or we riot. But even if UK spoils Saturday's party, don't even think about turning out the lights on this Auburn team. This special season is the logical progression of this program under Pearl. It was built to have a ton of fun and win a lot of games. It is building toward something bigger - winning the last game of the year.

Which just may be the thing that crashes the Internet for good.

This is not Krzyzewskiville at Duke before UNC. This is Pearlville at Auburn before Kentucky. (Jackson Harris photo)



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