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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

Step back, football, roundball is living large in Alabama

Is Alabama a basketball school? They ask that question now and again, and it's never clear if the inquiry is entirely serious considering the university employed both Paul Bryant and Nick Saban, but Nate Oats plays it straight. He says it's not an either-or proposition. Alabama is a championship school, and basketball is just trying to do its part.

Good answer from the coach of the best college basketball team in the country at the moment, no matter what the polls or the metrics spit out.

Is Alabama a basketball school? You could make a case after the Crimson Tide added a quality 85-64 road win Saturday at Missouri, its 17th victory in 19 starts, its eighth straight win, its seventh in seven SEC games, each of them by a double-digit final margin.

With No. 2 Kansas losing twice in the past week, Alabama will move from No. 4 in both polls to No. 3 at least on Monday. Rising all the way to No. 1 seems a matter of when, not if. When it happens, it will be history that stretches all the way to the other SEC program in the state.

Alabama has been No. 1 before, back in December of 2002. So has Auburn, just last year. Which means, if the Tide can jump Houston, which it's already beaten, and Purdue, Alabama and Auburn will have achieved No. 1 rankings in consecutive seasons after winning the last two SEC regular-season championships.

So is Alabama a basketball school? Good question. Here's a bigger and better one more applicable to the moment. Is Alabama a basketball state?

Asked and answered at multiple courts Saturday.

All Auburn did was win its fifth straight game, its second straight wire-to-wire SEC road victory of the week, this one at South Carolina 81-66 to improve to 16-3 overall and 6-1 in the league. That may not have been the program's biggest accomplishment of the last seven days, the other achieved when Loyola Marymount became the first visitor to win at Gonzaga in 76 games.

Fun fact (and when I say fun, I mean throwback bucket hats in The Jungle, and when I say fact, I mean truth is stranger than fiction): The longest home winning streak in college basketball now belongs to Auburn.

Not Kentucky or Kansas, who play in storied Rupp Arena and Phog Allen Fieldhouse. Not North Carolina or Duke, who've made history in the Dean Dome and Cameron Indoor. Auburn, which plays in a deep-fried, laser-eyed hothouse that's younger than Jabari Smith.

The last 28 times the Tigers have tipped off in Neville Arena, before and after its name change, they have stepped up and walked away with a victory. Of all the firsts and bests the program has posted under Bruce Pearl, there is no milestone more astonishing.

This is Auburn, the program that once had to move an exhibition game to Columbus, Ga., on short notice because someone booked an REM concert in Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum after neglecting to check with head coach Sonny Smith. Auburn, the program that once put up curtains to reduce the seating capacity in the coliseum to make the place feel less like a mausoleum.

This is Auburn, but it's not Auburn, not the way it used to be. Auburn football has never been to the four-team College Football Playoff. Auburn basketball had never been to the Final Four, but it broke that glass ceiling for the entire state in 2019. How sweet would it be, if you love big-time, home-grown college basketball anywhere in this state, if Alabama made it to Houston on the first weekend in April and cut down nets?

Opinion: It could happen. Prediction: It will. Save this receipt.

Read Kevin's entire tribute to his favorite sport. Only in The Lede.

Another rowdy student-led crowd watches Samford win another game in the Pete Hanna Center.



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