Tennessee v Alabama
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No. 4 Tennessee took another step toward securing its first outright SEC regular-season title since 2008 with an 81-74 win over No. 14 Alabama on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. The Volunteers, who won a share of the SEC title with Auburn in 2018, will head into the final week of the regular season with a one-game lead over Alabama and South Carolina in the conference standings.

The Volunteers (23-6, 13-3) extended their win streak to six games and snapped Alabama's 16-game SEC home winning streak that dated back to the conclusion of the 2022 campaign. Tennessee defeated Alabama 91-71 in the first matchup between the two in Knoxville on Jan. 20.

Alabama (20-9, 12-4 SEC) had a chance to tie the game with 37 seconds remaining, but star guard Mark Sears missed a 3-pointer at the top of the key.

The Crimson Tide limited Tennessee star Dalton Knecht to 13 points -- his lowest scoring output since dropping eight points in the SEC opener against Ole Miss. Knecht had scored at least 20 points in five of his last seven games, but he did make his mark as Tennessee fought to pull away in the second half. 

Four of Tennessee's starters scored in double-figures, which included Zakai Zeigler finishing with 13 of his team-high 18 points in the second half. Zeigler knocked down four free throws in the final minutes and Jonas Aidoo converted both of his attempts from the charity stripe to help Tennessee pick up its sixth Quad 1 win of the season.

Tennessee would secure the No. 1 overall seed in the SEC Tournament by winning out. Alabama will need Tennessee to lose one of its final two games against South Carolina or Kentucky next week to clinch at least a share of its third SEC title in the last four years.

SEC title race coming into focus

The race for the SEC regular-season crown is taking shape heading into the final week as Tennessee controls its destiny. The winner of next week's South Carolina-Tennessee game is guaranteed at least a share of the SEC regular-season title as the Gamecocks own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Vols thanks to a 63-59 win in Knoxville earlier this year.

Tennessee, meanwhile, holds the head-to-head tiebreaker against Alabama based on Saturday's result and a win earlier this season at home. If the Vols handle business on Wednesday, they would almost certainly be guaranteed the No. 1 overall seed in the SEC Tournament based on tiebreakers.

In the latest Bracketology projections from CBS Sports expert Jerry Palm, Tennessee was on the No. 2 line with Kansas, Marquette and Arizona. If the Vols win the SEC regular season and/or the conference title, they will have a real case to dethrone one of Purdue, Houston, North Carolina or UConn as a No. 1 seed. This performance on the road can be a building block for that argument.

Alabama limiting Knecht is a good sign

There aren't many players in the country who are scoring the ball at a higher clip right now than Knecht as the Northern Colorado transfer has exploded for 25 or more points in eight conference games. He was limited to his worst offensive performance in nearly two months against a power conference team that gives up more points than anyone else.

Alabama sits at No. 334 in scoring defense (79.2 points per game), which ranks just ahead of Michigan for the worst defense among the major conferences in the sport. The final score may not reflect it, but the Crimson Tide were much better defensively. They held Tennessee to right around its season average, and part of that inflation was due to Alabama's late-game fouling.

Foul trouble certainly hurt both teams. Alabama starting forward Grant Nelson fouled out with 6:44 remaining and was limited to 16 minutes. In Nelson's absence, reserve big man Nick Pringle answered the call by recording 13 points and nine rebounds on 4-of-4 shooting.

Alabama will win games in March because of its lethal offense. If the defense can hover just around average, like Saturday's performance, it could result in a deep NCAA Tournament run.