Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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College basketball rankings: Auburn stays in thick of SEC championship hunt after racing past rival Alabama

Bruce Pearl’s Tigers are now in a three-way tie atop the SEC standings after defeating the Crimson Tide

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CBS Sports graphic

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl understood that if his Tigers lost at home to Alabama on Wednesday, after previously losing at Alabama two weeks earlier, they’d fall two games back of the Crimson Tide in the SEC standings with just eight games left to play in the regular season.

And that would probably do it.

If the goal is to secure a third SEC title in a seven-year span, and it most definitely is, falling two games back of an instate-rival in the standings would’ve made that extremely difficult. So Auburn really needed to win this mid-week showdown, and the Tigers played like it right from the opening tip.

Final score: Auburn 99, Alabama 81.

The Tigers scored 55 points in the first half and cruised to their third straight win while improving to 19-4 overall and 8-2 in the SEC. That means Auburn is now tied for first in the league standings with Alabama and South Carolina. Tennessee is a half-game back.

“I felt like, going in, this game was clearly the biggest regular-season game we’ve had this year because if Alabama gets this one they’re two games up on us, and we’re probably not in the championship race, and we’d like to still be in it,” Pearl said following the 18-point victory. “So we put ourselves in a position [with this win] where at least we’re still in it.”

Auburn is up to No. 11 in Thursday morning’s updated CBS Sports Top 25 And 1 daily college basketball rankings thanks to the fact that the Tigers are 8-4 in the first two quadrants with two Q1 wins and only one loss outside of Q1. Clearly, they’re light on Q1 victories relative to other elite teams, evidence being that Auburn is the only school in the top 20 of the Top 25 And 1 with fewer than three Q1 wins. But that’s more of a reflection of the schedule — Auburn has only had five Q1 opportunities to date — than it is a reflection of the quality of the team. 

For whatever it’s worth, KenPom.com now projects Auburn to finish 14-4 in the SEC, which, based on those same projections, would be enough for Pearl to secure a third SEC regular-season championship at Auburn in the past seven years. To highlight just how outside of the historical norm this is for this program, consider that the previous 19 coaches at Auburn combined to win just three conference regular-season titles in the previous 100-plus seasons.

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