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Auburn @ Alabama: Game Preview

The Crimson Tide basketball team will close out the regular season when it hosts the Auburn Tigers in the season finale on Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa's Coleman Coliseum. Bama is looking to close out a very disappointing season by exacting revenge for what was arguably its most heart-breaking loss in a season that saw far too many such losses.

Tip-off is set for 12:30 p.m. local time. The game is sold out, but fans wanting to go to the game are encouraged to look for tickets outside the stadium, where they can probably be found for reasonable prices. The game will be televised throughout the Southeast on the SEC Network. For those outside the region, the game will be available online at ESPN360.

Alabama is coming off a surprise win on the road at South Carolina that saw them overcome a 14-point deficit without their best player, JaMychal Green, who was suspended for academic reasons. Coach Grant has left open the possibility that Green might return for Auburn, but the Tide might be forced to play without him again. The Tide is looking to improve upon its 15-14 overall record and 5-10 SEC mark. A win would secure a tie with Auburn for fourth place in the SEC West, while a loss would slip the Tide to 5th in the standings. Still, more than anything, Bama wants revenge over an Auburn team that, despite its own woes, has had Alabama's number for the last couple of years. Adding to the importance of this game for the Tide is the celebration of Senior Day for Anthony Brock and Mikhail Torrance. The team and staff no doubt want to send them out as winners.

Auburn has had a worse overall season than Alabama. Although they have a similar overall record as the Tide (15-15), they played a weaker non-conference schedule and are ranked lower in the RPI rankings. However, Auburn, as has been the case for the last several seasons, has picked up their play down the stretch against SEC opponents. They have a one-game lead over the Tide in the SEC standings (6-9 in SEC play) thanks to their last-second comeback victory over Alabama back in January. Auburn won't be invited anywhere for postseason play, and the question surrounding the program is whether coach Jeff Lebo will be given another season to turn things around. A sweep over Alabama might be just what he needs to save his job for now, but the bigger question is, can anyone turn around a program that is known around the nation for its lack of fan support?

Read below the jump for more analysis of the game...

Since we've already seen Auburn this season and I've already previewed their team, I will paste below in italics my original game preview, while adding new comments below each paragraph specific to Saturday's game in Tuscaloosa.

This year's Auburn team seems to be pretty much your typical Auburn team under coach Jeff Lebo. As in most years at Auburn, you won't find any five-star talent on the roster, and you'll have to look real hard to find a four-star, if you find one at all. That said, they have some nice guards with good quickness and decent skill, and they have a little more size in the post than in recent years. As always, they are a perimeter-oriented team that lives and dies by the 3. In fact, they are jacking up 3s at the rapid rate of over 25 per game (by comparison, we shoot less than 16), so obviously defending the arc is a big key to this game, as is the simple question of whether or not Auburn is able to hit their 3s when they take them. When they are hot as a team from behind the arc, they are extremely dangerous, as evidenced by their controlling large parts of their games against ranked opponents Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ole Miss when they were hitting. I've praised Alabama's perimeter defense a good bit recently, but it will truly be put to the test in this one. I'll go ahead and say that the biggest key to this game is likely to be our perimeter defense vs. the Auburn perimeter shooters. We have to rotate quickly outside on defense, get around and switch on screens smoothly, and avoid fouling 3-point shooters while closing down space. Finally, we have to just hope that Auburn's shooters don't get hot and bring the crowd into it when they do get open shots.

In the first game at Auburn, we did a very good job defending the 3-point line and they struggled to find ways to score when we took that away from them. That said, our defense hasn't been quite as sharp in the last few games (this was discussed at length here) so we really have to hope that Auburn's shooters don't get hot, especially Waller, who has been shooting it well lately. We need to see more of the disciplined perimeter defense we saw for much of the season.

Lebo is fortunate to have the services of one of the SEC's more underrated point guards, senior DeWayne Reed. Reed leads the team in both scoring and assists, with 16.4 points and 4.6 assists per game. Alabama has done a good job defending opposing point guards lately, and it will be very important for us to continue that streak against Reed. Auburn's other two starting guards are also very solid players. Sophomore Frankie Sullivan is a talented player who supposedly wanted to come to Alabama, but was never offered by the former coaching staff. Let's hope that snub doesn't come back to bite us. Sullivan is the team's second-leading scorer at 13.5 points per game, and he leads the team in steals while hitting 40% from beyond the arc. Senior Tay Waller is the last of three Tiger guards averaging double-figures at 12.1 points per game. He is the best 3-point shooter on the team, averaging 2.7 made 3s per game while shooting 39% from beyond the arc. All three of Auburn's starting guards are threats from deep, as they each average over 1.6 made 3s per game. Auburn has a pair of 6'5" freshmen guards, Andre Malone and Earnest Ross, who provide depth in the backcourt.

Except for allowing Reed to get to the free throw line and giving Waller a couple of easy looks on defensive breakdowns and in transition, we did a pretty nice job defending these guys down in Auburn. these three can all score, so we must play good high-energy defense for 40 minutes to keep them in check on Saturday. Anything less and we'll get into a scoring contest with them that we aren't well-suited to win, especially if Green doesn't play.

The leader of the Auburn frontcourt is senior forward Lucas Hargrove, who plays somewhere in between a small forward and a power forward. Hargrove leads the team in rebounding, with 7.3 per game, and also averages double-digits in scoring at 13.1 points per game. He is exactly the type of player Coach Grant likes to match up Hines on defensively, so look for that to be the case when Lebo goes with only Hargrove and one true post player. When Hargrove is in the game with two other forwards, Mitchell will likely draw the matchup. Senior forward Johnnie Lett usually starts down in the post, but senior center Brendan Knox actually gets the most minutes at that position. Knox averages 8.8 points while shooting a very high 68% from the floor. Sophomore forward Kenny Gabriel and freshman forward Ty Armstrong provide depth for the Tigers in the post.

In the game at Auburn, we held Hargrove in check pretty well until the last few minutes when we got tired and allowed him to get to the rim on us. The rest of their frontcourt combined for 4 points and as a team we out-rebounded them on the day. We're coming off our best rebounding performance of the season, so hopefully that will continue. Green's presence or lack thereof will be big. His foul troubles down at Auburn were a big reason they were able to come back on us in the final minutes. Auburn was also very quick to double-team Green and really limited his production even when he was playing. If he plays, we need him to be aggressive and try to make Auburn pay for the double-teams. If he isn't playing, we need Knox to step up again like he did at South Carolina so we can establish some offense in the post without Green.

Lebo deserves credit for being a very good defensive coach. Auburn uses smaller, quicker lineups to pressure perimeter players and make it difficult for opposing offenses to get comfortable. They are known for executing traps in their halfcourt defense which usually generates a lot of turnovers. Although Auburn is a very well-coached defensive team, I actually think that both of our star players, Mikhail Torrance and JaMychal Green, have the potential to have big games down on the Plains. First off, for Green, none of Auburn's post players are known as particularly dominant defenders or strong rebounders. He needs to be aggresive offensively throughout the game and really look to score in a lot of different situations. He also needs to avoid silly fouls, because we're really going to need his scoring in this one. Torrance has potential for a big game because none of Auburn's starting guards is over 6'2". At 6'5", Torrance can use his size advantage when driving in the lane and getting off floaters and layups. Torrance abused smaller Vanderbilt point guard Jermaine Beal earlier this year until Commodore coach Kevin Stallings switched the much taller Jeffery Taylor on him. Although Auburn does have two 6'5" guards on their bench, neither has the athleticism that Vandy's Taylor does. Tony Mitchell will also be a key part of this game for Alabama, as Auburn's 3-point attempts will generate a lot of loose ball situations where he excels in rebounding, and Auburn will be forced to match a much smaller player on him when they go man. Finally, as always, we will need Charvez Davis and Anthony Brock to knock enough 3s down to keep Auburn honest in the likely event that they go zone for much of the game.

These things are all really key in this one. Green did neither of the things I called for the first time around, so if he plays he needs to step up and make it count. Torrance also had a poor game against Auburn. He scored 13 points, but he didn't shoot well and he had his worst performance of the season from a turnover perspective. Auburn's defense had a lot to do with that, and they will most certainly look to pressure him again in this one. He must protect the ball. Looking back, we were in position to put Auburn away in the last 20 seconds despite our two best players having bad days, something that should give us some encouragement on Saturday.

In summary, the biggest keys in this one are avoiding turnovers and defending the perimeter. Whether Green plays or not, but especially if he does play, we need to try and get the ball in dangerous spots down low on offense. If he plays and they double-team him, he needs to pass well and look to draw fouls. The most important thing of all though is for Alabama to play with passion and purpose for the whole 40 minutes. If we do that, there's no reason we don't end this disappointing season by beating our archrivals and sending out Brock and Torrance on a high note.

Beat Auburn.

Roll Tide.