From 2004 to 2017, the months of February and March were a relative dead zone in Auburn, Alabama. The hometown Tigers qualified for college football’s postseason 12 times in that span, winning five divisional crowns, three SEC titles, and one national championship to establish the school as a gridiron powerhouse.
Auburn’s basketball team, on the other hand, had only three winning seasons in the same stretch. It qualified for the NCAA tournament zero times.
That all changed when Bruce Pearl was hired out of exile to become the program’s 20th head coach. Two years of building led the Tigers back to the happy side of .500 after seven-straight losing seasons. Two more have put Auburn in its first ever Final Four.
The Tigers take on the tournament’s last surviving No. 1 seed when it faces Virginia under the brightest lights ever shined on the Alabama school. But where will the loudest blue and orange fans in the country actually be Saturday?
Where is Auburn?
Auburn is located in Auburn, Alabama — a city of 63,000 that’s paired with Opelika to create the Auburn-Opelika metropolitan area. It’s near the state’s eastern border with Georgia and only an hour’s drive from Montgomery, a two-hour ride from Birmingham, and a 99-minute, time zone-shifting drive to Atlanta.
What else should I know about Auburn?
- The Tigers may be playing in their first Final Four, but they’ve still got a deep hardwood history. The university’s most famous basketball alum — and maybe its most famous, period — is NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, who averaged 14.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game in three seasons as a Tiger.
- He’s just one of 22 players who have gone from eastern Alabama to the NBA, including Chuck Person, Wesley Person, Eddie Johnson, Mike Mitchell, and Matt Geiger.
- Challenging Barkley for “most famous alumni” status are Apple CEO Tim Cook, actor Octavia Spencer, unstoppable Tecmo Bowl sprite Bo Jackson, former NFL MVP Cam Newton, WCW star Kevin Green, Lionel by-god Richie, and Toni Tennille (one half of 70s supergroup The Captain and Tennille).
- Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering offers degrees in 11 different disciplines. It was also just awarded a $5.2 million grant from NASA to use its 3D printing prowess to help develop rockets that could put Americans back on the moon in the next decade.
- The Tigers have won 17 NCAA championships, 13 of which have come from their men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams.
- Auburn was the first four-year college in Alabama to admit women (in 1892).
- African-American students, however, weren’t admitted until 1964.