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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Love And Basketball.
That’s the story here at the NCAA Tournament South/Midwest Region marriage that has Alabama and Auburn fans getting along like kissin’ cousins. Careful saying that in Alabama.
What’s next in this Birmingham Bizarro World? Cats and dogs living together?
Could the iron in the Iron Bowl be melting?
STATE OF ALABAMA IN A BASKETBALL STATE OF MIND
No. 1 overall seed Alabama (30-5) and No. 9 seed Auburn (21-12) are each here, but will not play one another in Birmingham. They can only meet in the national championship game at the Final Four in Houston on April 3.
Auburn plays No. 1 seed Houston (32-3) on Saturday (7:10 p.m., TBS) in Legacy Arena here in the Midwest Region. Alabama meets No. 8 seed Maryland (22-12) after that game (9:40 p.m., TBS) in the South Region.
The Auburn-Houston winner advances to the Sweet 16 in Kansas City, March 24-26. It will play the winner out of No. 5 seed Miami (26-7) and No. 4 seed Indiana (23-11). Those two play Sunday night (8:40 p.m., TNT). Miami beat No. 12 seed Drake, on Friday, while Indiana beat No. 13 seed Kent State.
The Alabama-Maryland winner advances to the Sweet 16 in Louisville, Kentucky, against the winner of No. 5 seed San Diego State (28-6) and No. 13 seed Furman (28-7). San Diego State and Furman play Saturday (12:15 p.m., CBS). Furman upset No. 4 seed Virginia on Thursday. San Diego State beat Charleston.
Tickets Scarce And Expensive In Birmingham
Tickets were scarce for both Birmingham games as of Friday afternoon. Legacy Arena has been sold out since soon after the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday that put Alabama and Auburn here.
The most expensive tickets in the entire NCAA Tournament through alternate sources are right here, according to StubHub. Prices to see Auburn or Alabama range from $252 to the top tourney price of $1,856.
But it must be worth it with so many pulling for their team and that other team, right?
Auburn beat No. 8 seed Iowa, 83-75, Thursday night with Alabama fans in attendance. They were not cheering, but hey, they weren’t booing either. Alabama beat No. 16 seed Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 96-75, earlier Thursday with Auburn fans mixed in their allegiances.
One of Alabama’s biggest haters over the years is former Auburn and NBA basketball star Charles Barkley of Leeds – 20 miles toward Auburn from Birmingham.
Charles Barkley Will Be Pulling For Alabama Vs. Maryland
Now a broadcast analyst, Barkley is rooting for Alabama and has picked the Tide to win the national championship. And Alabama even showed a video of Barkley praising the Tide at Coleman Coliseum before Alabama beat Arkansas, 86-83, on Feb. 25.
Barkley also says Crimson Tide star player Brandon Miller should have been suspended by coach Nate Oats back in January. That was after Miller put himself in a questionable situation at the Alabama Strip on Jan. 15. But that’s another story.
NEW YORK TIMES STANDING BY ITS STORY AMID BAMA DENIALS
“Listen this ain’t football, so I think the Alabama and Auburn fans are going to be rooting for each other, that’s just my personal opinion,” Barkley said this week on a CBS Zoom call previewing the tournament.
“Alabama and Auburn, we hate them in football and they hate us,” he said. “But when you get to the basketball arena as an Auburn fan, if Alabama is playing, you’re going to root for them, more than likely. Same thing, I think Alabama fans are going to root for Auburn.”
Auburn Could Help Alabama By Beating Houston
That will especially be true on Saturday, because an Auburn win over Houston could help Alabama on paper. Because Houston is a No. 1 seed.
Still, these two blood rivals pulling for one another sounds weird. There was skirmishing and nearly a fight between the two teams during the game when Alabama beat Auburn in Tuscaloosa, 90-85, on March 1.
But the love has apparently grown since.
Auburn Player Says He’s Cheering For Alabama
“I’m actually cheering for Alabama,” Auburn senior guard Zep Jasper of Augusta, Georgia, said. “I want to see them win. I want to see them have success because they’re another team from Alabama. I’m rooting for them. I don’t know if they’ll be rooting for us.”
Jasper is pulling in particular for Miller.
“I’m pretty excited for him,” he said. “This is an opportunity to show why he is one of the best players in college basketball.”
Brandon Miller Scoreless And Injured
Miller is coming off the first zero-point game of his college career, though, as the freshman was nursing a groin injury suffered in the SEC Tournament championship win over Texas A&M on Sunday. The SEC player of the year and first team All-American missed all five of his shots against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi through 19 minutes. He is averaging 19.1 points a game.
“He’s getting treatment already this morning,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said Friday. “Got it last night. Going to get a lot more this afternoon. We’re holding him out of anything live in practice today. I think he’s going to be all right. Seemed like he was moving all right. It obviously bothered him. Didn’t shoot it particularly well, but seemed like he was moving decent. So he’s just got to get his confidence back that he could play with it.”
Jasper is also a fan of Oats.
“Nate Oats is having a great year in coaching,” he said.
Oats and Auburn coach Bruce Pearl have praised one another this week and throughout the season.
Pearl took that further on Thursday night after his team’s win over Iowa in front of 17,000 as he put his team’s and Alabama’s wins into perspective.
“Guys, this is Birmingham, Alabama,” Pearl, a Boston native who spent much of his coaching career in the Midwest, said. “This is football country. And we dominated. And I’m really proud of that.”
When he said, “we,” he meant Auburn and Alabama in unison.
Alabama Is A Basketball State?
“We looked like a basketball state today,” he said. “Alabama took care of their business today early on. They filled the building, too. Auburn played a really good team out of the Big Ten. And we played well, and we filled the building. And I think it makes a statement about basketball in the state of Alabama and the great job that people here in Birmingham did putting this tournament together.”
Oats, a native of Watertown, Wisconsin, who was Buffalo’s coach before coming to Alabama, feels much the same way.
“I’ll say this,” he said. “I’m pulling for the SEC. I want the SEC teams to do well. I think we need it for our league. I think NCAA Tournament success bodes well for the league. Our league, the basketball in the SEC, has got significantly better here lately. We’ve got a lot of pros coming out of this league. We play a great brand of basketball. We need to get some NCAA Tournament success.”
Nate Oats Realizes How Auburn Fans Are
But it not exactly all a love fest. Some Auburn fans may naturally be pulling for Maryland against Alabama after they play Houston. Old habits die hard.
“Some will, I’m sure,” Oats said. “They can’t help themselves. It is what it is. Hopefully they’re smart enough to know that they should be pulling for the SEC. What’s good for the SEC is good for Alabama. What’s good for the SEC is good for Auburn. So Roll Tide.”