NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Alabama

Alabama survived a late surge in the final moments to upset No. 8 Auburn on Wednesday 79-75 for its first win vs. a ranked team of the season. The Tigers came into this game as one of two Big Six programs that had yet to lose a conference game this season, while the Crimson Tide were 0-4 against Top 25 opponents prior to a win over their biggest rival.

The Crimson Tide (13-6, 5-1 SEC) led by 14 at halftime before Auburn opened the second period with a big run to take their first lead since it was 18-17 with 12:23 left in the first half. The result creates a three-way tie atop the SEC standings with Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee all at 5-1.

Auburn (16-3, 5-1) had won 11 consecutive games dating back to a road loss against Appalachian State on Dec. 3. The Tigers dropped their first game of the season against then-No. 20 Baylor and are 0-3 against Quad 1 opponents. 

Coming into last week, Alabama and Auburn were two of seven Power Six opponents that had yet to lose a conference game — joining Baylor, Texas Tech, North Carolina, Oregon and Wisconsin. The Tar Heels improved to 8-0 in ACC play with a win over Wake Forest on Monday, while the rest of the teams dropped at least one conference game during that stretch. 

  • Alabama star guard Mark Sears scored a team-high 22 points for his 10th 20+ point outing of the season. Three other Alabama players — Grant Nelson, Latrell Wrightsell Jr. and Rylan Griffin — scored in double figures.
  • Auburn forward Chad Baker-Mazara was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 12.6 seconds remaining, down three, and missed the last free throw attempt that would've tied the game. Alabama forward Grant Nelson made both free throws on the other end to extend the lead back to three.
  • The Crimson Tide improved to 9-1 at home this season. The lone loss came to Clemson in the ACC/SEC Challenge on Nov. 28. 
  • Auburn star big man Johni Broome recorded his eighth double-double of the season and finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds.

Alabama adds to its résumé

The computers love the Crimson Tide despite them being unranked in both the AP Top 25 and the Coaches Poll. Alabama is ranked No. 9 in the NET — just two spots behind Auburn — and No. 8 in The Crimson Tide went through the gauntlet last month and faced a brutal three-game stretch that included games against No. 4 Purdue, No. 8 Creighton and No. 4 Arizona. Alabama was also coming off a 20-point loss over No. 6 Tennessee, so it's safe to say they needed this one for its resume. 

The Crimson Tide will be a tournament team ... that's obvious. The question is, how high can they climb in the seeding? In CBS Sports' latest Bracketology by Jerry Palm, the Crimson Tide were slotted on the No. 5 line. After this win, there's a strong chance they will be able to move up. Getting production out of other players not named Mark Sears is massive for the trajectory of this team. With games against LSU, Georgia and Mississippi State on the schedule before a rematch with Auburn on Feb. 7, Alabama will have a strong chance to stay at the top of the standings and improve its seeding in the process.

UNC is all alone without a conference loss

And then there was one. 

After Auburn lost to Alabama on Wednesday, the only Big Six team that hasn't lost a game this season? North Carolina. The Tar Heels have been one of the hottest teams in the country since falling to Kentucky in the CBS Sports Classic and recently moved up to a No. 1 seed in the Bracketology.

Auburn faced its first ranked opponent of the season last weekend and won that game over Ole Miss in commanding fashion. The Tigers have the luxury of avoiding playing Kentucky and Tennessee twice and will have six straight unranked opponents in conference play. 

Auburn is running one of the deepest rotations in the conference. Ten players are averaging at least 15 minutes per game this season. For context: no team in the last 25 seasons has won a national championship when doing that. Auburn will be a threat come March, but if they rely on Broome too much — like they did tonight — they could be heading toward an early exit. Depth is a great thing and it's rare to have that in college basketball. It just needs to be used wisely 

SEC reset

As mentioned above, there is now (currently) a three-way tie atop the SEC standings. South Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia aren't too far behind with two losses each, while Texas A&M and LSU both sit at .500 with a 3-3 record. Missouri and Vanderbilt are the only two teams in the conference that have yet to win a game in SEC play. Lucky for them, they play each other on Feb. 3 ... which means someone has to win!

Kentucky has the best overall roster in the conference and has the talent to win it all. Tennessee might have the best overall player in the conference — Dalton Knecht — and a supporting cast alongside him that's capable of going to the Final Four. South Carolina is coming off its biggest win of the season over Kentucky and has been a pleasant surprise in Year 2 of the Lamont Paris era. 

Alabama's victory showed us the SEC is wide open. And with every team in the SEC having at least one loss, it's certainly up for grabs.