Bama Basketball Breakdown: Auburn

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama looks to get revenge against intra-state rival Auburn

The road woes continued in the loss to Ole Miss, and it now looks like Alabama will go the entire 2013-14 season without winning a single road game, barring a miraculous win over Kentucky next week. The good news for the Crimson Tide is that the Auburn Tigers (13-13, 5-10 SEC) will come to Tuscaloosa for the game Saturday. The last time these two teams met, Auburn stomped Alabama in humiliating fashion down on the Plains, with their football team also receiving the Iron Bowl trophy at halftime. In other words, it was a terrible day to be a Tide fan. Forget how bad this season has been thus far, all that matters right now is getting some sweet revenge against these guys. Plus 11th place in the SEC is on the line! FEEL THE EXCITEMENT!

From last time:

Auburn is about as much of a two-man team as I have ever seen. Senior G Chris Denson (18.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.5 APG 1.0 SPG) and Junior G K.T. Harrell (19.1 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.0 SPG) do nearly all of the shooting and scoring on the team. They currently rank 2nd and 3rd in the conference in PPG, behind only Missouri's Jabari Brown, yet their team hasn't won a SEC game yet. There isn't much commentary to add to that. Denson is more of a slashing guard, as he does pretty much all of his damage off the dribble and inside of the arc. He shoots 46.5% from the field, but only 21.2% from three and 61.7% from the line. He uses his athleticism well, as he is a pretty good rebounder for his size. Harrell is a better all-around scorer (47.0% FG%, 41.9% 3P%, 84.3% FT%) but Denson has the edge in every other area. Harrell rebounds, passes, and plays defense fairly well, but he definitely makes his name as a scorer. Alabama can not let Harrell get free because he's the kind of guy who can take over a game offensively and really get the crowd going. Joining Denson and Harrell in the starting backcourt is Freshman G Tahj Shamsid-Deen (8.9 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 3.1 APG, 0.7 SPG). Shamsid-Deen is a decent scorer (44.0% FG%, 33.3% 3P%, 75.9 FT%) but his calling card for this team is his ability to get the ball to their open looks (mostly Denson and Harrell). At just 5'10, he is a non-factor on the glass, and he can be easy to bully when he is on defense. Coming off the bench for those three guys will be Junior G Malcolm Canada (3.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.7 SPG) and Freshman G Dion Wade (3.2 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.6 SPG). Neither one of these guys plays a significant role, and they are both pretty mediocre on both offense and defense.

The frontcourt for Auburn isn't very good, but it is big. Senior F Allen Payne (7.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.2 SPG) is a solid power forward. He plays good defense (which can't be said about many of Auburn's players) and is decent from the free throw line (73.7%), which is where he gets a lot of his points. 7'0 Senior C Ashaun Dixon-Tatum (5.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.8 BPG) is a huge guy. But, that's pretty much all there is to say about him. He scores six points a game and grabs six and a half rebounds, which isn't very good considering he is seven feet tall and plays 22.5 MPG. He swats a lot of shots, but he also gets beat on the inside quite often as well. At 46.2% from the free throw line, it's safe to say that hacking him and sending him to the line is not a bad idea. A pair of big freshmen centers, 6'9 Matthew Atewe (2.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.5 BPG) and 7'0 Benas Griciunas (2.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG) get most of the playing time off of the bench. As you can see, they are really just big bodies who aren't very good at really any phase of the game. Atewe does swat the ball pretty well and shoots alright (42.9% FG%, 62.5% FT%), but there just really isn't anything to say about these guys other than that they are big. Which (surprise!) does make a difference in basketball. Sophomore F Jordon Granger (1.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG) and Freshman F Alex Thompson (1.4 PPG, 1.3 RPG) play occasionally.

I said last time that Auburn was better than their win-less SEC record showed, and their 5-4 record since I wrote that only solidifies that. Denson and Harrell can play, they are very good basketball players.

Denson (20.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.1 SPG) continues to lead Auburn offensively, as he is currently tops in the SEC in PPG. His shooting numbers have gone up across the board (48.3% FG%, 25.3% 3P%, 66.0% FT%), and that has been a very good thing for Auburn.

Harrell (18.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 0.8 APG) has cooled off rather significantly from the field (43.9% FG%, 36.1% 3P%) but he is still a very dangerous option for the Tigers.

Shamsid-Deen (9.8 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 2.9 APG, 0.8 SPG) has progressed as a freshman, and should continue to see his role increase over time.

Canada (2.9 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.7 SPG) and Wade (3.2 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.7 SPG) have played in every game, but again, there isn't much to say about them.

Payne (7.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.3 SPG) has continued his solid production in the post.

Dixon-Tatum (5.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.9 BPG) has improved as a scorer (57.7% FG%, 60.9% FT%), but his PPG has gone down. This usually indicates that he is taking better shots, and that he is actually knocking down his free throws now.

Atewe (1.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.3 BPG) and Griciunas (2.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG) have continued to see a lot of time (and not so much production) off of the bench in the post.

There really isn't much else to say about Granger (1.2 PPG, 1.6 RPG) and Thompson (1.2 PPG, 1.4 RPG).

Three Keys to Victory

1. Limit Denson and Harrell. I mean, this one is obvious. To beat the Auburn Tigers you have to beat K.T. Harrell and Chris Denson. This isn't rocket science. They run a lot of screens to try and create space for these two guys, so Alabama needs to be ready for that. As I said before, Denson is very good at attacking the basket, and spends a ton of time shooting free throws. But he isn't a great free throw shooter, so Alabama may be encouraged to be very aggressive in response to Denson's own aggressiveness (despite our terrible free throw defense, am I right?).

2. Win the Battle for the Three Point Line. It goes without saying that neither of these teams is very good at stretching the court from three. However, if one of the two teams is able to get it going from beyond the arc, watch out. The ability to knock down three pointers leads to a lot of momentum. But almost more importantly, it leads to a higher PPP (Points Per Possession) which will more than likely not be duplicated by the opposing team. In other words: if one of these two teams gets going from beyond the arc, it will create a huge advantage for said team because it's almost guaranteed that the other team will not be knocking down threes. If Alabama and Auburn are both shooting well from three then this winter storm really may be the first sign of the End Times. Fortunately, Alabama is very good a defending the three, while Auburn is terrible at it.

3. Don't Let Auburn Dominate the Glass. Auburn's bigs aren't very good at rebounding, but they are very tall, which means that they don't have to be that good at rebounding in order to out-rebound teams. Alabama, meanwhile, hasn't been very good on the glass either. However, the Tide has gotten some good production down low in the last two games. Hopefully that trend will continue Thursday night, as second chance opportunities can make or break you in hard fought rivalry games.

Key #1 is vital to Alabama's chances of winning this game. Denson and Harrell combined for 55 of Auburn's 74 points last time. Yes, they had as many points as our whole team. Denson has been tearing it up lately, so the Tide needs to do its best to slow him down. You just can't let Denson get dribble penetration and give him a lane to the basket. As I said before, Harrell has cooled off, but he is very capable of heating back up.

Key #2 didn't really affect the game last time, as neither team was able to get anything going from downtown. But it could still play a huge factor in this game for the same reason as before. If Trevor Releford, Shannon Hale, Levi Randolph, or Rodney Cooper get going from beyond the arc, it's going to put a lot of pressure on Auburn to try and match that output on the road.

Key #3 was miserable for Alabama last game. Despite Auburn not being a very good rebounding team, they went +7 against us, and that prevented Alabama from ever getting back into the game when Denson and Harrell started going off.

The Trevor Releford Watch

-After a 16 point, 5 rebound, 4 steal and 3 assist performance against Ole Miss, Releford has continued to build his resume for SEC POY. I know it's not likely to happen, but the guy is basically guaranteed to be First Team All-SEC once again.

-Releford is now only 4 points behind the great James Robinson for 6th all-time in scoring here at the Capstone. So show up Saturday afternoon to watch one of Alabama's all-time greats continue his climb up the Alabama record books.

Alabama and Auburn don't have much to play for on Saturday, but come on, its Auburn. These guys have really been a nasty thorn in our sides recently, and a blowout win over them at home would be so very nice. The game tips-off at 2:00 pm CST and will be televised by ESPNU.

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