SEC men’s basketball report By Tom Murphy

Top teams to meet on Saturday

FAYETTEVILLE -- The SEC's top two teams -- preseason conference favorite Tennessee and last year's champion Alabama -- battle on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., with sole possession of first place likely to be at stake.

Tipoff is at 8 p.m. (ESPN) at Coleman Coliseum, where Alabama has won 16 consecutive games and has survived as the only SEC team not to lose at home this season.

Tennessee moved up to a season-high No. 4 Monday in the Associated Press Top 25, while Alabama dropped a spot to No. 14 after Saturday's 117-95 road loss to Kentucky.

Tennessee is unlikely to be fazed by the stakes or the environment, as the Volunteers have racked up five league road wins already. The Vols have won their last four games by an average of 26 points per game, including an 86-51 beat-down of Texas A&M on Saturday, since falling 85-69 at the Aggies on Feb. 10.

Prior to Saturday night, the Crimson Tide faces a tough road test on Wednesday at Ole Miss, which fell to 14-2 at home after a 72-59 loss Saturday to South Carolina. Tennessee has a big home game against Auburn, which is sitting alone in third place (10-4), on Wednesday.

The game will pit the SEC's top scorers in Alabama guard Mark Sears (20.4) and Tennessee guard Dalton Knecht (20.2), the only players in the conference at 20-plus points per game.

Hot coaches are also on tap. Tennessee's Rick Barnes notched his 800th career win with the blasting of Texas A&M. He is the 15th Division I coach with 800 wins, joining Kentucky's John Calipari as active SEC coaches to hit that milestone.

Alabama Coach Nate Oats, named to the Naismith Coach of the Year Late Season Watch List last week, was hot under the collar after his team's 117-95 loss at Kentucky on Saturday, calling out the Tide's lack of defense.

Going big

Kentucky's 117-95 win over Alabama at Rupp Arena on Saturday was a record breaker on several fronts.

The Wildcats scored their most ever against Alabama, hit their highest total against a top 25 team since scoring 113 against No. 13 Notre Dame on Dec. 28, 1974, and scored their most against an SEC opponent since 120 against Vanderbilt on Feb. 7, 1996.

Kentucky also had its highest scoring at Rupp Arena since posting 127 against LSU on March 4, 1995.

Alabama has scored 80-plus points in eight consecutive games, matching a feat last accomplished by Kentucky, twice, during the 2016-17 season. The top scoring team in the country with 91.1 points per game, Alabama is averaging 97 points in its last eight games since a 79-75 loss at Auburn on Jan. 24.

Kentucky is third in the country with 88.7 points per game.

Battle plan

Arkansas guard Khalif Battle, selected SEC Player of the Week on Monday, said he's going to keep heaving shots up no matter who tells him to stop.

"I think Coach [Eric Musselman] earlier this year said if I got a red light I'm still going to make it green," Battle said after his 42-point game in Saturday's 88-73 win over Missouri. "Anybody could tell me, the President of the United States can tell me to stop shooting the ball, I'm still going to shoot the ball. I'm going to be honest with you. That's just who I am, that's what I do.

"My grandma always says, 'When you know who you are, you know what you do.' I know who I am and I know what I do. I'm a scorer."

Road map

South Carolina and Tennessee stand alone among SEC teams with five conference road wins as each scored their fifth last week. The Volunteers edged Missouri 72-67 at Mizzou Arena last Tuesday and South Carolina thumped Ole Miss 72-59 on Saturday.

Alabama, Auburn and Kentucky have four road victories, while Florida and Georgia have three. Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State and Texas A&M have two and Ole Miss has one. Missouri and Vanderbilt have not won on the road.

Alabama is the lone SEC team to remain unbeaten in home conference games, though the Crimson Tide had to rally late to edge Florida 98-93 in overtime last Wednesday. That game featured eight ties and 13 lead changes and the Gators held a 72-62 lead with 8:40 remaining.

Bye bonanza

Add South Carolina and Auburn to the list of schools that came off their bye dates with a big performance. The Gamecocks, riding a two-game losing streak, had a bye date in the midweek before handling Ole Miss 72-59 on the road on Saturday.

Auburn, beaten at home last Saturday by Kentucky, did not play in the midweek before crunching Georgia 97-76 Saturday in Athens, Ga.

SEC teams are 9-4 when coming off their byes during league play. Kentucky did not have one, instead scheduling a game against Gonzaga, won 89-85 by the Zags at Rupp Arena on Feb. 10.

The SEC teams that lost coming out of their byes were Georgia (88-82 vs. Florida), Ole Miss (75-63 at Kentucky), Missouri (79-76 at Ole Miss) and Vanderbilt (75-62 vs. Tennessee, which was also coming off a bye).

Flanigan flagrant

Little Rock native and Ole Miss senior Allen Flanigan was leveled with a Flagrant 2 foul and ejected for swinging his elbow into the face of South Carolina's Zachary Davis in the second half with the Rebels trailing by 13 points in what became a 72-59 setback.

Flanigan's flare-up occurred away from the ball, with the 6-6 guard starting to make a cut toward the lane and essentially punching Davis in the face with his elbow. After Davis tumbled down to the court, the game officials reviewed the play and made the ejection determination.

As the regular season winds down, the action is heating up. Alabama's Mohamed Wague was suspended for a game last week after whacking Florida's Alex Condon on the head with a forearm during a loose-ball scramble. The game officials did not catch that and his suspension was leveled by the league office.

The A-teams

The most recent wins by Arkansas gave it two-game sweeps of Texas A&M and Missouri, allowing the Razorbacks to join the SEC's other 'A' teams -- Alabama and Auburn -- as well as South Carolina as the only teams with a pair of two-game sweeps with four games left in the regular season.

Florida has already swept Georgia, Tennessee has already swept Vanderbilt and Texas A&M has already swept Missouri for the only other sweeps in league play.

Alabama whipped LSU twice, scoring 109 points in both games, and has also swept Mississippi State. Auburn took two from both Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. South Carolina's sweeps have come against Missouri and Ole Miss.

Kentucky finishes with four rematches and has a chance to sweep Arkansas, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.

As for the flip side of two-game sets, Missouri has been swept three times (Arkansas, A&M, South Carolina), Ole Miss and Vanderbilt have been swept twice, and Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State and Texas A&M have been swept once.

Among the teams that have avoided a sweep thus far: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee, only the Gamecocks cannot be swept this season. In addition to their two sweeps, the Gamecocks have already split with Georgia and have wins over Mississippi State and Tennessee, whom they will face again down the stretch.

Auburn update

The Auburn Tigers, the only team to win the SEC regular season other than Alabama the last three years, rebounded from a home loss to Kentucky by stomping Georgia 97-76 on the road on Saturday.

The Tigers had their best shooting night at 61.2% (36 of 58) since firing 65.4% against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Dec. 30.

Auburn (21-6, 10-4) is a game behind Alabama and Tennessee atop the conference with a road date against the Volunteers on tap.

The Tigers might not have the services of starting forward Jaylin Williams, who suffered a knee injury during an awkward landing in the home loss to Kentucky, which snapped the Tigers' 16-game winning streak at Neville Arena.

Coach Bruce Pearl said Williams did not suffer major damage and was expected to be out up to two weeks.

Slowpoke Rodriguez?

Riding a two-game losing streak, including a home setback to LSU, South Carolina went back to basics during a bye date last week and proceeded to turn in one of its best defensive efforts of the season to thump Ole Miss 73-59 at SJB Pavilion on Saturday.

Ole Miss shot 33% from the floor and 18.8% from three-point range (3 of 16) in dropping just its second home game of the year.

The Gamecocks, throttled 101-61 at Auburn and beaten 64-63 at Colonial Life Center by LSU the week before, registered its fifth SEC road win.

"It just was all about the basic stuff, the basic, basic stuff that has allowed us to have success," South Carolina Coach Lamont Paris said of his team's defensive grit. "We went back to some of that. Just playing basic rules and trying really hard."

Paris praised Zachary Davis for his energy and effort.

"He was trying really hard and in a very disciplined manner," Paris said. It's hard to do that. It's hard to be Speedy Gonzales and then Slowpoke Rodriguez in your mind."

Court rushing

Duke's Kyle Filipowski suffered an injured ankle during a court rush by Wake Forest fans immediately after the Demon Deacons' 83-79 win on Saturday, bringing a renewed focus to what has increasingly turned into a dangerous act.

Duke Coach Jon Scheyer, whose club dealt with a court storming after an 80-75 loss at Arkansas earlier in the season that led to a $100,000 fine by the SEC, took aim at the practice during his postgame remarks.

"When are we going to ban court storming?" Scheyer said. "When are we going to ban that? How many times does a player have to get into something where they get punched or they get pushed or they get taunted right in their face? It's a dangerous thing."

Scheyer brought up the court-storming incident involving Iowa women's basketball star Caitlin Clark at Ohio State and said his in his time at Duke teams would have 10 seconds to exit the court before fans spilled on.

"Now it's the buzzer doesn't even go off and they're on the floor," Scheyer said. "This has happened to us a bunch this year."

The ACC does not fine schools for court rushing, while the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-12 have fining systems in place. The Big Ten waits until a third incident to levy penalties.

Zou-do

Missouri has four games left to try to avoid being only the second 0-18 SEC team since the league added the Tigers and Texas A&M for the 2012-13 season.

Vanderbilt had an 0-18 league record in 2018-19 and is the only SEC team to go winless in conference play since a single-division format was instituted in 2011-12.

The conference had no winless teams throughout its span as a 12-team league with the addition of Arkansas and South Carolina from the 1991-92 season through 2011-12.

There were seven 2-14 teams in that span: Tennessee in 1994; LSU in 1998, 2001 and 2010; Georgia in 2005; Arkansas in 2009; and South Carolina in 2012. There were no 1-win teams.

Georgia went 1-17 in 2022 and these teams went 2-16 since the most recent expansion: LSU and Missouri in 2017, Georgia in 2019 and LSU in 2023. Texas A&M went 2-8 in the covid-impacted 2021 SEC campaign.

Missouri gets back in action Wednesday at Florida, followed by a home game against Ole Miss on Saturday. In the last week of the regular season the Tigers will host Auburn and then travel to LSU.

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