After the big home win last Saturday night (that feels nice to type), Alabama will head down south to take on the Auburn Tigers (8-9, 0-6 SEC). The horrible ice storm that came through was bad enough to push the game back to Thursday, which means Alabama will have another quick turnaround come Saturday against a good Tennessee team. But first, the Crimson Tide have to focus on their first game in what has become Rivalry Week for the good guys. Auburn is not a good basketball team, but they also aren't as bad as their win-less conference record might indicate. Of their 6 losses, they have lost to Missouri, Ole Miss, Florida, at Arkansas and Tennessee, with their lone bad loss coming to Mississippi State. They also always seem to play well against us (or Alabama just plays poorly enough) whenever the Tide visits. The place will be packed, as Auburn always sells out for the Alabama game, so our team needs to be ready. They really shouldn't have any motivational issues here.
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. Their 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.
What to Watch For
1. Alabama's Competence. I don't think I have to remind anyone here about the last time Alabama played at Auburn. The Tide managed a pathetic 37 points against a terrible team. Not so fun fact: that was Auburn's last SEC win, nearly a year ago. As long as Alabama plays to a competent level, and Harrell or some random contributor doesn't go off, Auburn really shouldn't win this game. Alabama needs to be ready though. Auburn will claw and drag you down to their level, especially at home. Oh, and Alabama hasn't won a true road game this year.
2. Slow and Staggered. We all know how painfully slow and staggered Alabama's offense can be at times. Well, our brothers to the south have been dealing with that same problem for years as well. I'm pretty sure it's a disease that our state has been exposed to somehow. Gene Chizik must have gotten in Grant's and Barbee's ears or something. Anyway, Auburn spends the majority of their possessions just trying to find a way to get Harrell and Denson open, and a lot of the times one of the two just says "screw it" and attacks the basket. Denson spends A LOT of time at the free throw line. Alabama and Auburn are also two of the worst teams in the country when it comes to assists, which leads to an ugly offensive product.
3. Retin's Injury. Retin Obasohan is once again questionable for the game. He is currently a game time decision, so stay tuned for that bit of information.
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.
Obviously, this is a big game for Alabama. Auburn isn't very good, but they are still Auburn. They will still pack the place with fans who hate Alabama. They will still present the Iron Bowl trophy to the football team at halftime. They will still go all out in order to try and get another win at home against Alabama. So let's get behind the team and hope that Anthony Grant's squad will play inspired basketball and crush these guys. Again, the game has been moved back to Thursday night. It is set to start approximately 25 minutes after the women's basketball game, which starts at 5:00 pm CST. So the game should start at about 7:30 pm CST and it will be televised, I believe, by SEC TV.