The list of unbeaten teams in college basketball was trimmed in half on Wednesday night as Alabama knocked off previously undefeated No. 4 Auburn 83-64. The Tigers were 15-0 entering the night, but keeping with the trend of this wacky season, they never led as Alabama went wire-to-wire and snatched their biggest win yet of the Nate Oats era.
Now left as the only unvanquished team in the sport: 18-0 San Diego State.
Auburn had leaped past every obstacle in its path to date with a top-10 scoring margin and an efficient offense, but the offense was a no-show against its rival on this night. The Tigers shot just 31.7 percent from the floor on the night and committed a season-high 21 turnovers, which Bama used to its advantage as 24 points were earned off of those Auburn missteps.
Now the questions will surface for Auburn and how serious we should take this Tigers team the rest of the way. Yes, its 15-1 record is among the sport's best, and yes, its scoring margin remains top-15 good. But this was just its third road test of the season, the previous two resulting in a one-point win over South Alabama and a 12-point win over Mississippi State. This team still hasn't faced a ranked opponent yet.
As those questions come about, there's no denying Auburn has a core still intact to make a run at the SEC. Isaac Okoro, whom coach Bruce Pearl has praised with fervor, scored a team-high 13 points in the loss, while Samir Doughty and Austin Wiley added six and 10 points, respectively. Combined, the trio shot just 9 of 28 from the floor -- an off night that served as a runway for Alabama to party for 40 minutes in Tuscaloosa.
The Crimson Tide were led by sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr., who scored 25 points. Herbert Jones and Alex Reese added 14 and 13 points, respectively. They struggled as a team to shoot the 3 with any real consistency, but the way they defended Auburn and capitalized on turnovers allowed them to overcome shooting struggles that plagued them against the Tigers.
1. Questions about Auburn still linger: I'm not ready to be an Auburn doubter -- somehow Bruce Pearl would print any pessimism I have about his team onto a shirt as motivation -- but it is definitely fair to wonder whether Wednesday was a blip on the radar or a sign of regression to the mean. Even with a 15-0 start, this must be considered: one was an OT win over Furman at home; one was a one-point win over South Alabama on the road; one was a four-point home win over slipping Vanderbilt. Wins are wins, but Auburn's first 15, while they will hold up well, are reason enough to pump the brakes a bit. A loss to Alabama only underscores that notion.
2. Alabama can build off this win: In Oats' first season in Tuscaloosa, it hasn't always been easy sledding. Even with this massive win, the Tide are just 9-7 with losses to Penn, North Carolina and Rhode Island among those on the dossiers. It's been a process. But this win comes at a good time for Alabama as it looks to gain real momentum for the first time under Oats. Up next in SEC play is Missouri and Vanderbilt, followed by an SEC/Big 12 challenge tilt against Kansas State before the end of the month. There's a real chance Alabama can parlay what was anticipated to be a loss to rival Auburn into a four-game win streak in the next two weeks -- which would be the Tide's longest of the season.
3. Auburn's dirty little secret: By now, it's not even a secret: Auburn is a bad 3-point shooting team. It shot 5 of 16 (31.3 percent) from distance in the loss, but that was basically its season average (32.1 percent). Auburn's been able to combat it by shooting 57.1 percent from the floor, which ranks top five in the sport, but 3-point shooting is (and likely will continue to be) a problem moving forward. No team has won the national championship ever while shooting below 31 percent, and Auburn -- a year removed from a magical Final Four run and primed to potentially replicate that postseason success -- is trending towards trying to do what no team has ever accomplished since the 3-point line was implemented. Given the way the game is played now, it's a downward trend Auburn must improve on, and fast.