The No. 22 Auburn Tigers capped an unexpected run to the 2019 SEC men's basketball tournament championship with a 84-64 victory over the eighth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers on Selection Sunday at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Bryce Brown led the offensive charge with 19 points for Auburn, which greatly improved its NCAA tournament resume by winning the conference's postseason title. The Tigers could push as high as a No. 3 seed for March Madness thanks to their win over the Vols, though a No. 4 seed is a safer projection.
Meanwhile, Tennessee failed to make a strong final statement to the selection committee as it tried to secure a No. 1 seed for the big dance. The Volunteers, who were paced by Lamonte Turner's 24 points, should still be a No. 2 seed when the bracket is revealed later Sunday.
Chuma Okeke Holds Key To Auburn's NCAA Tournament Hopes
Auburn leans heavily on the guard tandem of Bryce Brown and Jared Harper, but the SEC title game showed it could be Okeke who determines how long the Tigers' already magical March lasts.
The sophomore forward showed exactly how much of a nightmare matchup he can be with five three-pointers en route to 18 points to go along with 13 rebounds, three steals and a block. He also shined with 22 points in the Tigers' 84-80 win over the Vols on March 9.
Okeke's success Sunday was made more important by the struggles of Harper, who connected on just one of his 11 attempts from the field and didn't score his nine points until the result was long decided.
Making a deep March Madness run is heavily dependent on getting production from secondary contributors. Auburn used that factor to win the SEC postseason title as, along with Okeke going off, the bench produced 30 points compared to just 10 from Tennessee's reserves.
Okeke's numbers on the season are a little more modest—he averaged 11.6 points and 6.6 rebounds entering Sunday—but these occasional outbursts showcase his high-end upside.
Now the Atlanta native will attempt to make a name for himself in the NCAA tournament, and the Tigers could benefit in a massive way.
Title-Game Clunker Creates Serious Concerns For Tennessee
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes has a key decision to make before Tennessee opens the NCAA tournament. He must decide whether to review Sunday's disaster with his team or bury the tape from the Vols' worst performance of the season and hope to never see it again.
The Volunteers committed 18 fouls, turned the ball over 17 times, including 12 turnovers in the first half to allow Auburn to build a nine-point lead, and allowed the Tigers to grab 13 offensive rebounds. UT also finished with just 11 assists—no player had more than two.
Put simply: they gave away the SEC tournament title with their own mistakes.
Of course, Tennessee is better than their performance Sunday would suggest. It's still going to enter the NCAA tournament with a 29-5 record, and all five of those losses came against opponents ranked inside the KenPom top 20.
March Madness is more about peaking at the right time than a team's overall resume, though. That's why the Vols' brutal performance when a championship is on the line is more concerning than if a similar result happened back in December or January.
Ultimately, it adds a little extra intrigue to Tennessee's tournament opener either Thursday or Friday. A similar performance could lead to an early exit to end a season that's featured so much promise.
Both SEC tourney finalists now await their placement in the NCAA tournament bracket. The Selection Show airs on CBS starting at 6 p.m. ET.