Kellogg On Final Four: Auburn's Run Most Surprising

Clark Kellogg explained why Auburn's run to Minneapolis was unlikely – and why John Calipari doesn't deserve blame for Kentucky's loss

Tiki and Tierney
April 04, 2019 - 6:06 pm
Auburn Kentucky

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If there’s a theme to this year’s Final Four, it’s inexperience. Texas Tech and Auburn have never been to a Final Four, and Virginia hasn’t been there since 1984.

Which of these runs has been the most surprising?

“I would go Auburn because of how they caught fire in the SEC Tournament and then survived that first-round game,” CBS Sports college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg said on Tiki & Tierney. “I thought they would play well without Chuma Okeke.”

Okeke, who is Auburn’s best player, tore his ACL during the Tigers’ Sweet 16 win over North Carolina last Friday. He finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds. 

Auburn, which has won 12 straight games, somehow beat Kentucky 77-71 in the Elite Eight.

“The first game after losing a key guy, you lift,” Kellogg said. “There’s adrenaline. There’s a rally around it, and you typically perform better. It’s the second or third or fourth (game when it catches up to you). It’s like jet lag. It doesn’t hit you sometimes until that second or third day. I knew they would play well, but I didn’t know they could beat Kentucky in a slow-down game. The other side of that coin when you lose a key player is the opposing team lets down a notch because you don’t have one of your best guys. Now they won’t say it, but subconsciously it’s almost impossible not to.”

But if that happened to Kentucky, Brandon Tierney wondered, shouldn’t John Calipari be criticized? Shouldn’t that criticism be placed right at his doorstep?

Kellogg says no.

“You can’t drop everything at the coach’s doorstep,” he said. “There’s certain things from a leadership, culture-development, in-game adjustment (standpoint), but ultimately, it’s 85/15 players to coaches most of the time. The 15 is important because it could be an after-timeout out-of-bounds play, or it could be an adjustment. But it’s 85/15, and there’s too many possessions and plays to put it there.”

Kentucky led 35-31 at halftime but shot just 5-of-21 (23.8 percent) from three and 12-of-21 (57.1 percent) from the foul line.

“They’re not a perimeter-shooting team, and the defense forced them to take perimeter shots,” Kellogg said. “They missed some shots around the goal they typically make, and then the guards were brilliant in overtime. Jared Harper was fantastic, and Bryce Brown was terrific throughout the second half and those guys made plays and did play to their strength better than Kentucky.”

Indeed, Harper (26 points) and Brown (24) combined for 50 points; Kentucky’s five starters scored 40 points combined.

“There’s a part of that the players have to own,” Kellogg said. “Perhaps Cal did give them what they needed, and they didn’t fulfill their side emotionally.”

Auburn (30-9) plays Virginia (33-3) on Saturday at 6:09 p.m. ET. The winner will play the winner of Texas Tech (30-6) versus Michigan State (32-6).

Click below to listen to Kellogg's interview in its entirety.