Auburn players hit by illness day before Final Four against Virginia

Cassandra NegleyYahoo Sports Contributor

With the men’s Final Four one day away, the Auburn Tigers have more to deal with than the top-ranked team in the bracket.

At least three players are battling illness heading into the No. 5 ranked team’s match-up against No. 1 Virginia. It was a similar story last week when illness befell North Carolina ahead of the Sweet 16 matchup.

The same thing that may have assisted the Tigers rise may also contribute to their demise.

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Auburn’s top scorers under the weather

Bryce Brown and Jared Harper are “under the weather,” Bruce Pearl told media Friday morning, per CBS Sports.

Harper said he has a cold and was reportedly hoarse when speaking with reporters. Brown is also sick and both players received shots to deal with symptoms.

“We've got a couple of guys that are sniffling and hacking and coughing, but we don't play today," coach Bruce Pearl said, per CBS Sports. "Jared would be less than 100 percent if we had to play today. If we played yesterday, Bryce would have been less than 100 percent. He'll be fine tomorrow."

Auburn is already dealing with the loss of Chuma Okeke, who suffered a torn ACL in the Sweet 16 victory over North Carolina. He averaged 12.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and had surgery Tuesday.

Blame the Tar Heels?

North Carolina had its own bout with illness last weekend in Kansas City.

Forward Nassir Little had missed practices with flu-like symptoms. Head coach Roy Williams opted not to bring him to the arena for the Sweet 16 practice, though the breakout star did end up playing.

The Tar Heels struggled offensively, though nothing was said of feeling under the weather. It’s unclear if Auburn players may have picked up an illness last weekend or sometime during the week.

Brown and Harper’s impact

The duo were relied upon heavily in the Elite Eight victory over Kentucky. They combined to score 35 of the team’s 47 points in the second half and overtime. Pearl admitted the game plan was to get it to them.

Brown averages a team-high 16.0 points per game. Harper is a second-best 15.4 points per game and the team-leader in assists with an average 5.8 per game. His 228 total assists are three times that of Brown and Okeke, the next closest.

Without Okeke they are the keys to defeating Virginia, whether it be by playing their fast game of slowing it down to take possessions away.

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