Virginia-Auburn to tip off Final Four

Last year Virginia made history for the wrong reason in the NCAA Tournament. How times have changed.

The No. 1-seeded Cavaliers, who became the first top seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the first round in 2018, are the last top seed standing this time around.

That 74-54 loss to UMBC, which must seem like a lifetime ago to the Cavaliers (33-3), can become a even more distant memory with two more wins in Minneapolis.

First comes the fifth-seeded Auburn Tigers (30-9), the lowest seeded team remaining in the tournament, in the Final Four opener at 6:09 p.m. ET Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The winner will then get either No. 2 Michigan State or No. 3 Texas Tech in the national title game on Monday night.

Whichever team wins will also be playing for its first national championship. While the Cavaliers reached the Final Four in 1981 and 1984, they lost in the national semifinals both times.

Auburn, meanwhile, is playing in its first Final Four after having reached the Elite Eight only one other time, losing to Louisville 84-76 in 1986.

The Tigers lost forward Chuma Okeke to a torn ACL in the Sweet 16 this year, but it hardly slowed them down against No. 2 Kentucky in the Elite Eight. They knocked off the Wildcats 77-71 in overtime to extend their winning streak to 12 games, the longest streak left in the tournament.

The Tigers rode an eight-game winning streak late in the season that included the school’s first SEC tournament championship since 1985.

Once arriving at the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers survived an upset bid by No. 12 New Mexico State in the first round, then beat No. 4 Kansas 89-75 to reach the Sweet 16, where they dispatched No. 1 North Carolina 97-80.

Virginia avoided a nightmare repeat of their 2018 loss after struggling a bit early against their 16th-seeded opponent this year, trailing Gardner-Webb by 14 points in the first half before winning 71-56.

The Cavaliers then beat No. 9 Oklahoma 63-51 in the second round, No. 12 Oregon 53-49 in the Sweet 16 and then No. 3 Purdue 80-75 in the Elite Eight.