SEC Basketball Report: Title implications on line as Alabama, Auburn meet again

Auburn's Johni Broome (4) shoots over Alabama forward Grant Nelson (2) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

FAYETTEVILLE — Kentucky has obviously been the dominant force in SEC basketball for decades.

But the near-term greatest successes in the league’s postseason have belonged to Arkansas and in the regular season to the two teams in the state called The Heart of Dixie.

Alabama and Auburn have combined to win the last three SEC regular-season titles. The Crimson Tide won it by 2.5 games over Arkansas with a 16-2 record in 2021; Auburn was 15-3 in 2022 for a one-game edge over Kentucky and Tennessee; and Alabama went 16-2 last year to nip Texas A&M by one game.

The Crimson Tide and Tigers are back at the top of the league standings once again and face a critical rematch at 6 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN2) at Auburn’s Neville Arena.

Alabama (16-6, 8-1 SEC) remained a game up for the SEC lead with a 2-0 week that included a huge comeback in an 85-76 road win at Georgia and a 99-67 blowout of Mississippi State at Coleman Coliseum on Saturday.

Auburn (18-4, 7-2 SEC) held the SEC lead two weeks ago before losing back-to-back road games at Alabama (79-75) and Mississippi State (64-58). But Coach Bruce Pearl’s Tigers rebounded with an 81-54 home win against Vanderbilt on Wednesday and a 91-77 comeback win at Ole Miss on Saturday.

The Tigers trailed by as many as 13 points, at 42-29 late in the first half, before rallying to deliver Ole Miss its first home loss of the Chris Beard Era at SJB Pavilion.

Auburn put six players in double figures and out-rebounded the Rebels 42-26 to aid in a massive 56-point second half. Former Auburn star and Little Rock Parkview product Allen Flanigan had a game-high 20 points against his old teammates.

Alabama’s scoring binges are again among the nation’s best. The Crimson Tide lead the NCAA in scoring at 89.9 points per game.

The romp over Mississippi State gave Alabama eight 30-point wins over SEC teams in Coach Nate Oats’ five seasons.

The Tide’s 14-game home winning streak in league play is its longest since the 1987-88 season. The streak dates to an 87-71 loss to Texas A&M on March 2, 2022, in the Tide’s home finale.

Auburn shot a smoking 73.3% in the second half at Ole Miss to overcome its double-figure deficit.

The Tigers held a pair of eight-point leads on Alabama in the first half of their first meeting on Jan. 24, but four consecutive three-point shots, three of them by Rylan Griffen, put the Crimson Tide in front 20-18.

Barnes effect

Tennessee’s national profile has elevated in nine seasons under Coach Rick Barnes, and a large reason for that is the way the 69-year-old Barnes has fared against SEC kingpin Kentucky.

The Volunteers’ wire-to-wire 103-92 road win at Kentucky on Saturday, sparked by career highs of 26 points by Zakai Zeigler and Josiah Jordan-James, bumped Barnes’ record to 7-1 against Wildcat teams ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press Top 25. Tennessee was No. 5 and Kentucky No. 10 for Saturday’s meeting.

Tennessee was 9-35 against Kentucky in the 22 seasons before his arrival, but Barnes has an 11-9 record against the Wildcats while on Rocky Top.

Those 11 wins in nine seasons are five more than any other team has against Kentucky in that span, as Auburn and Kansas can account for six each.

Tennessee improved to 10-5 against ranked Kentucky teams under Barnes, who is 4-3 on the road against the Wildcats after the program had two such wins in the prior 36 seasons.

Tennessee’s last 100-point game in SEC play had come in a 106-87 win over Arkansas on Jan. 15, 2019, and its last triple-digit road game in conference play had 101-91 win over the No. 13 Razorbacks on Feb. 16, 1993.

Cocky break

South Carolina finally put enough on its resume to break into the Associated Press Top 25 poll on Monday, debuting at No. 15 to give the SEC five teams in the current poll. The Gamecocks, who led among teams receiving votes last week, extended their winning streak to five games with Saturday’s 72-62 victory at Georgia, their fourth SEC road win.

South Carolina avenged a 74-69 home loss to Georgia from Jan. 16 after which it hasn’t lost since.

The Gamecocks started the streak with a convincing 77-64 win at Arkansas on Jan. 20, then took down Kentucky (79-62) and Missouri (72-64) at home.

The biggest win in the streak came next, as the Gamecocks stunned No. 5 Tennessee 63-59 in Knoxville, Tenn., on Jan. 30.

Second-year Coach Lamont Paris has turned South Carolina into the story of the year in the conference with a veteran roster playing on the same page.

South Carolina hosts Ole Miss at 5:30 p.m. tonight at Colonial Life Arena then welcomes in Vanderbilt at noon on Saturday.

Oh, it’s you

Auburn forward Johni Broome felt a small tug on the back of his jersey just after saving a ball from going out of bounds on the sideline at Ole Miss on Saturday night, so the 6-10 Broome turned around and swatted the fan’s hand away.

Turns out the fan was Morgan Freeman, the beloved 86-year-old actor and celebrity Ole Miss fan. Freeman put his hand out to make sure Broome’s momentum didn’t carry him into the seats. Then he gave the No. 4 jersey a playful tug.

After the swatting move, Broome quickly recognized Freeman and began offering his apologies. Broome came back over to Freeman later to shake his hand.

“I thought it was an Ole Miss fan just grabbing my jersey and holding onto me,” Broome told reporters. “Then I saw who it was and, you know, I’m a big movie guy. I probably watched some of his movies on the plane coming here.

“But I realized it was him and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m a big fan, I’m sorry.’ And he just said to keep playing.”

Wild week

Kentucky has a weird week on tap after being swept at home with losses to Florida and Tennessee at Rupp Arena last week.

The Wildcats lost back-to-back home games in SEC play for the first time since 2021, when Tennessee (82-71) and Arkansas (81-80) did the deed on Feb. 6 and 9.

Tennessee’s 103-92 win on Saturday marked the first time a Kentucky team coached by John Calipari allowed 100-plus points at Rupp Arena.

The last time anybody scored 100 on the Wildcats at Rupp came in a 111-103 loss to the Virginia Military Institute on Nov. 14, 2008, the season opener in Coach Billy Gillispie’s final year in Lexington, Ky.

The last SEC team to hang 100 on the Wildcats anywhere had been Arkansas in a 101-94 win at Barnhill Arena on Feb. 10, 1993. The year before that, Arkansas whipped Kentucky 105-88 at Rupp, the only other time an SEC team cracked the century mark on the Wildcats there until Tennessee’s eruption.

The Wildcats had been dominating their series with Florida with a 9-1 mark in the last 10 games, including Kentucky’s 87-85 victory on the road in the conference opener this year.

Kentucky travels to Vanderbilt at 7:30 p.m. tonight and then hosts Gonzaga at Rupp Arena at 4 p.m. Saturday as the Wildcats filled the open date on their schedule with a marquee nonconference game.

In and out’s Jerry Palm has eight SEC teams in his latest NCAA Tournament projection released on Monday, including Texas A&M as a 12 seed in a first-four game.

Palm’s bracket prediction also features 2 seed Tennessee, 3 seeds in Alabama and South Carolina, 5 seed Auburn, 6 seed Kentucky, 8 seed Ole Miss and 10 seed Mississippi State, with Florida falling on the wrong side of the bubble.

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi included eight SEC teams in his field on Friday, with Florida among his first four out and Texas A&M one of the last four byes.

His projection included 2 seed Tennessee, 3 seed Alabama, 4 seed Auburn, 5 seed Kentucky, 6 seed South Carolina, 8 seed Ole Miss, 9 seed Mississippi State and 10 seed Texas A&M.

Out and in

Texas A&M guard Tyrece Radford went from an overnight stay in the Brazos County Jail to a 26-point effort capped by a game-winning jumper in the Aggies’ 67-66 win over Florida on Saturday.

Radford spent the overnight hours in jail after being charged on suspicion of evading in a vehicle during an incident in December. But he made the $8,000 bail and was released in time to go 10 of 16, including 2 of 3 from three-point range to help Texas A&M beat the Gators 67-66 in College Station, Texas. Radford hit the final field goal of the game with 35 seconds to play to five Texas A&M its fifth win in a row over Florida by a combined 10 points.

Sweet CoMo

Texas A&M has made itself quite at home playing at former Big 12 rival Missouri at Mizzou Arena.

The Aggies will take a 7-1 record in the last eight meetings in Columbia, Mo., into Wednesday’s 8 p.m. (ESPN2) matchup there.

Missouri took down Texas A&M 57-56 in the first game between the teams at Mizzou Arena as SEC rivals on March 5, 2014, and also beat the Aggies 91-83 in two overtimes in the SEC Tournament that season.

However, Texas A&M claimed the next three games at the venue by a lopsided average of 18 eight points per game. Missouri logged a 62-58 win at Mizzou Arena on Feb. 13, 2018, but the Aggies have taken the last four there by nine points or less.

100-point stats

SEC teams have scored 100-plus points in five conference games this season after Tennessee’s 103-92 win at Kentucky on Saturday.

Ole Miss started the century toppings with a 103-95 defeat of Florida on Jan. 10, and the Gators got a triple-digit total themselves with a 102-98 triumph in overtime against Georgia on Jan. 27.

Kentucky also outscored Georgia 105-96 at Rupp Arena on Jan. 20, and Alabama ran LSU 109-88 on Jan. 27 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the highest point total by an SEC team this year.

Top players

Auburn’s Johni Broome and Kentucky’s Rob Dillingham were announced as SEC weekly honors on Monday by the league office.

Broome, a 6-10 junior from Plant City, Fla., was named SEC Player of the Week after averaging 15.5 points, 10 rebounds 5.5 assists and 4 blocks in wins over Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. His work included a 16-point, 11-rebound effort against the Commodores that marked his 55th career double-double.

Dillingham, a 6-3 guard from Hickory, N.C. was named SEC Freshman of the Week after averaging 27.5 points, 4 assists and 2.5 rebounds in games against Florida and Tennessee. Dillingham tallied a career-high 35 points on 14 of 20 shooting, including 6 of 8 from three-point range, in a loss to the Volunteers on Saturday.