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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Auburn

Things may be coming to an end for Anthony Grant and Alabama, but there is still some unfinished business to attend to

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

As the game against Vanderbilt came to an end this past Saturday night, Alabama's hopes of an at-large bid faded along with the sound of the final buzzer as it echoed through a sparsely-attended Coleman Coliseum. Valentine's Day 2015 may just be the day fans will always remember as the day Anthony Grant's tenure as the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide came to an end. Barring a miraculous run in the SEC Tournament akin to the 2008 Georgia Bulldogs, the Crimson Tide will, once again, not be dancing in March. However, there are still six games left on the schedule, and the next one is always important no matter what the circumstances are, as Alabama heads to Lee County to take on the Auburn Tigers (12-13, 4-8 SEC). In their earlier meeting, Rodney Cooper's put-back ended up being the difference as Alabama was able to top the Tigers in Tuscaloosa. The Tide will need even better execution Tuesday night if they hope to snap a two-game losing streak at Auburn Arena.

The Starting Five

  • PG K.C. Ross-Miller (6.7 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.8 SPG)
  • SG Antoine Mason (14.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.0 SPG)
  • 3G K.T. Harrell (17.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.0 SPG)
  • PF Jordon Granger (4.7 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.9 APG, 0.8 BPG)
  • Cinmeon Bowers (13.0 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 0.8 BPG)

From last time:

Ross-Miller is a drive-and-dish type of point guard. He's a mediocre shooter (34.3% FG%, 21.4% 3P%, 77.1% FT%), but he can score in around the basket. His defense (94.7 DRtg, to go along with the 2.3 SPG) might be his best attribute. Mason is a scorer, one of the few that Auburn has. He is mostly a high-volume guy though, as his shooting numbers are just solid (41.8% FG%, 34.6% 3P%, 71.6% FT%), but he takes about ten shots a game. His 6'1 size severely limits his ability to hit the boards or play defense as well as one would want their starting two-guard to. One of the leading scorers in the conference again this year, Harrell shoots 45.8% from the field, including 44.6% from three. He averages nearly thirteen shots per game, and it would be a mistake to let him get into rhythm. Harrell is a scorer, plain and simple. He doesn't do anything else significantly well, but he can really lift Auburn at times.

Granger has been a huge key for Auburn this season, not because he is a great basketball player or anything, but because he has given the Tigers another post player that can actually hold his ground. Again, Granger isn't going to "wow" anyone, but with a 51.6% FG% and an ability to step back and hit the three (44.1%), he gives defenses something to think about. Finally, Bowers rounds out the starting line-up, and he rounds it out well. The guy is a monster on the glass, as he is 4th in the country in RPG. This has been huge for Auburn, as they don't rebound much besides him. He isn't a very good scorer though (43.3% FG%, 47.9% FT%). Defensively, he has been strong in the middle with a 93.1 DRtg.

Auburn has seen a bit of a change in production since the last time these two met. The guards have all started knocking down more shots, but the defense has regressed a bit for the Tigers. Harrell was huge in their upset win in Athens against Georgia Saturday night, shooting 7/13 for 21 points. He's worked his way up to 7th in the country at 45.2% from three, and he is making a very good case for 1st-team All-SEC. Bowers has come down a little bit in terms of his production on the glass (now sitting at 7th in the country himself), but he continues to be a major force inside for Auburn. The Tigers are really clicking when Bowers is cleaning up the few misses Harrell has. Auburn has some other solid players on the court, but Harrell and Bowers are the difference-makers.

The Bench

  • Malcolm Canada (5.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.1 SPG)
  • G T.J. Lang (1.8 PPG, 0.9 RPG)
  • Alex Thompson (2.6 PPG, 1.8 RPG)
  • Trayvon Reed (1.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.8 BPG)

From last time:

Canada, the senior, has seen his play elevated this season, and he has been a solid 6th man for the Tigers. He is hardly a scorer (39.2% FG%, 20.0% 3P%) though, but he does knock down his free throws (78.0%). He is an average passer, he can play solid defense, and he will come up with a couple of boards a game. Thompson provides depth in the post, but Reed is the interesting prospect for Auburn down low. A 7'2 freshman, Reed has the physical abilities to one day be a massive force in the post. Fortunately for Alabama, he is still a real work-in-progress, as his skills need some serious polishing.

The major development off of the bench for Auburn is that back-up point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen has been ruled out for the rest of the season following surgery on both of his shoulders last week. For a team that was already so thin on the bench, that was a big blow. However, Auburn will have freshman guard T.J. Lang this time around, after he missed the first game in Tuscaloosa. Lang's not had a very impressive season thus far. His only significant contribution has been his shooting, and even that has been pretty mediocre (33.3% FG%, 31.6% 3P%, 61.5% FT%). However, he's a player with potential, and his 6'7 size gives him a strong foundation to build off of.

What to Watch For

  • Ricky Tarrant's Status. The Tide's second-leading scorer has now missed five games straight, and there is growing speculation that he might be shut down for the rest of the season. Obviously, Alabama has a lesser chance of winning in Auburn without Tarrant, though his ejection in the first game did lead to others stepping up and leading the comeback win.
  • How the Team Responds. Saturday night's loss to Vanderbilt was an arrow to the heart for Alabama, and Anthony Grant may not ever recover from it. How will this team respond to such a dejecting loss? If the Tide don't at least match Auburn's intensity, this game could be ugly. Auburn always gets up for Alabama at home, and it is one of the major reasons why Auburn's won back-to-back games against Alabama there.

Three Keys to Victory

Here are the keys from last game:

  • Avoid Careless Mistakes. One thing that Auburn does do well is turn the other team over. Auburn ranks 35th in the country in SPG. Alabama has been very careless with the basketball at times this season. The Tide really don't need to force things or make erroneous passes, as Auburn will be very active with their hands. Auburn isn't particularly good on defense. If you don't help them out, you can score on them on a pretty consistent basis.
  • Free Throws. Auburn is a horrible free throw shooting team, ranking 314th in the country at 63.9%. Alabama has really cooled off from the charity stripe over the course of the season, but they still hold a large edge over Auburn in this category at 73.0%, and they shot well from the line in Fayetteville. It seems obvious here, but in a game that will be fiercely contested between two bitter foes, there will be plenty of fouls (especially with SEC officials). An abnormal night from the free throw line could spell disaster for Alabama.
  • Alabama was able to out-rebound Auburn 31-28, with the final rebound being the put-back winner on the Tide's last possession. Auburn really doesn't rebound the ball well as a team, as almost all of the production comes from Bowers alone. Bama needs to make sure they find Bowers any time the ball goes up. The Crimson Tide turned the ball over 13 times against Auburn in Tuscaloosa, though only two of those were stolen away by Auburn. Regardless, a turnover is an extra possession for the Tigers no matter the form, and Alabama can't really afford that. They will have to do better on the road in a hostile environment if they want to come away victorious. As far as free throws are concerned, Alabama knocked down 12/16 for a 75.0% clip in the last match-up, and they needed every one of them. Auburn shot uncharacteristically well from the charity stripe themselves (of course), basically matching Alabama at 12/15 from the line. That negated what should have been a big advantage for Grant's team, and that was the main reason why the game ended up being so close. Hopefully the Tigers will see a regression to their 66.7% mean Tuesday night.

    Interest in Alabama basketball is at a low right now, and Anthony Grant's tenure as the head coach is on life support. However, the good guys will be heading on the road to take on Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers Tuesday night. There should be no lack of motivation no matter what either team's record is. Grant may not be around after this season, but the majority of this team will be. A sweep over Auburn in Pearl's first year would go a long way in limiting the momentum shift towards the southeastern part of the state. This is a big game.

    Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.