Raise a glass to Auburn hoops, the 2019 state team of the year
In the last 310 days, the Auburn men's basketball team has played 25 games. Strange-but-true fact: The Tigers have won 24 of those 25 games.
Stick that in your AUld lang and syne it.
Given football's never-ending shadow in this state, the enormity of that accomplishment has yet to be fully appreciated, but it deserves a standing ovation, a flying body bump and a Toomer's Corner Charmin explosion.
This extended show of excellence from one season to the next - with a significantly different roster full of new faces and old ones in fresh roles - is as special as it is rare.
Consider the new ground Bruce Pearl and company continue to break. Auburn closed the 2018-19 season with 12 straight wins to get to the Final Four for the first time in school and state history. That historic run toward a woulda coulda shoulda national championship ended in the controversial national semifinal loss to Virginia.
Refreshed, recharged and retooled, the Tigers have opened the 2019-20 season with 12 straight wins to close out the calendar year as one of only two undefeated teams among the 353 basketball-playing schools in Division I.
What are the odds? This is a program that has won 24 or more games in a season only five times, including each of the last two years.
Break it down, and this superior hoop stretch of 24 wins in 25 starts becomes even more impressive. Of those 24 victories, 12 have been at a neutral site, and three have been true road games. That means 15 of the 24 wins have happened away from the most energized home crowd and electric home-court advantage in the state in The Jungle at Auburn Arena.
Four of those 24 wins came in the SEC Tournament, giving Auburn just the second title in that event in school history, and four more came in the NCAA Tournament, the last three against a who's who of bluebloods in Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky. Five of the opponents were ranked, four in the top 10, three in the top 5.
In short, Austin Wiley and friends haven't been dining on Little Debbies.
Add it all up, and Auburn may not be too eager to turn the page on 2019, which has been the best calendar year in program history with nothing else even close.
From the Final Four to the last two with zero defeats. From the most wins by a Division I men's team in school and state history to the program's best start in 21 years. It's heady stuff. It's also the reason the team of the year in the state of Alabama in the Year of Our Lord 2019 is as plain as the headband on Samir Doughty's head.
Kudos to the Alabama football team that played in the National Championship Game, the Alabama softball team that reached the Women's College World Series, the Auburn baseball team that reached the College World Series, the Auburn football team that won an epic Iron Bowl and the UAB football team that played in a second straight Conference USA Championship Game. All of them made special memories in 2019.
Auburn basketball went one giant leap beyond. The Tigers made history. As the New Year looms, they look ready for more.