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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Auburn

Alabama hosts their hated in-state rivals in a huge showdown

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

There have been some big-time match-ups in the history of Alabama and Auburn’s rivalry on the hardwood, from their meeting in the 1985 SEC Championship Game to their most recent post-season battle in Saint Louis last season. Tonight’s game may not register as one of the top-five most significant meetings between the two, but the stakes are quite high, especially for the Tide.

At 17-12 (8-8 SEC) with only two regular season games remaining, Avery Johnson’s squad finds themselves smack-dab in the middle of the NCAA Tournament bubble, as they attempt to make consecutive appearances in the Big Dance for the first time since 2005-2006. One more win would probably do the trick, especially if that win happens to come against an Auburn team that should be a lock for the tourney. At the same time, the SEC standings are also coming down to the wire, as the Tide find themselves a game back from a five-way tie for 4th place in the conference at 9-7, one of which is Bruce Pearl’s Tigers. A win tonight could give Alabama a decent shot at finishing 4th in the SEC and drawing that illustrious double-bye into the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament in Nashville next week.

On the flip side, a loss would be devastating. Not only would it mean a season sweep at the hands of the hated Tigers, it would also move Alabama dangerously close to their first appearance in the sad Wednesday play-in games next week, as well as an invite to the NIT. That’s obviously worst case scenario, but it would certainly be tough for Avery Johnson to show up to work the next day.

So, yeah, there aren’t any championships at stake in Tuscaloosa tonight, but this game is of massive importance for quite a few people on the Alabama side of things.

From Last Time

Three Keys to Victory

Take Care of the Basketball. If Alabama is sloppy with the ball tonight, Auburn will run the Tide out of the gym. Considering how poorly the Tide have inbounded the ball this season, and how terrible they have been at breaking the press, I fully expect Pearl to throw everything he can at the Tide, especially since he has the depth to do so now.

Defend the Three Point Line. Again, if Alabama doesn’t contest every perimeter shot the Tigers take, they will get run out of the gym. The environment in Auburn Arena is going to be nuts, and Auburn is going to attempt an onslaught of threes. Better Alabama teams have lost to lesser Auburn teams by failing to do the two things I just listed. It is absolutely critical that the Tide be on their ‘A’ game in these two departments to have any shot at winning Saturday night.

Rebound the Basketball. After dominating the glass all season, Alabama has really disappointed in this area the last two outings. Fortunately, it only cost the Tide in one of the two games, but Alabama has got to get its swagger back on the glass. If Wiley can’t go tonight, there is no reason Auburn should out-rebound Alabama. The Tide need to dominate here. Alabama will have to survive that onslaught of threes, and giving the Tigers any second chances could spell disastrous. Offensive rebounds are one of the best ways to get open looks from the perimeter.

Check out this link to read the full Breakdown for the last meeting, and click here for Brent’s game recap.

The previous meeting between these two in Auburn was an abject disaster. It almost felt like someone forwarded the team a copy of my article and Avery threw it up on the board and said, “We have to do the exact opposite of what this no-nothing blogger suggests”. The Tide turned the ball over 21 times, Auburn shot 13/22 from deep, and the Tigers out-rebounded Alabama. And the Tide got run out of the gym.

I’d get more in-depth with my analysis of that game, but there simply isn’t any reason to. The Crimson Tide played the exact kind of ball that you can’t play against a Bruce Pearl-coached team and the result was obvious.

That’s Depressing, What About this Meeting?

Being at home will make a substantial difference tonight. Alabama has never performed well in Auburn, even when the Tigers were fielding garbage teams year after year. Auburn Arena is a really tough place to play when Auburn’s fair-weather fans bother to show up, and the place is always a mad-house when big brother comes to town. The dimly-lit, cavernous feel of the friendly confines in Coleman should help stifle an Auburn team that relies so much on momentum.

Honestly, both teams have been so inconsistent this season that this game could go a number of different ways. If Auburn is off, they really play some poor basketball. Jacking up threes and piss-poor efforts on defense and the glass have been common in Tiger losses this season. Starting big man Austin Wiley is doubtful to play, as the poor guy just can’t seem to stay on the court, and that should be a huge key for the Tide. Alabama has to be physical with these guys and play the whole game around the basket. Auburn simply doesn’t have the size or bodies to bang with ‘Bama all night. This is the exact formula the Tide utilized in both of their victories over Auburn last season. They attacked the rim all game, survived Auburn’s barrage of three-pointers as the Tigers inevitably cooled off away from home, and then knocked down timely shots themselves.

John Petty knocked down 8/13 from downtown against Auburn the last time these two played in Tuscaloosa, and based on how he finished out the LSU game Saturday, he could be primed for a hot night. We’ve mentioned it a number of times recently, but Avery’s shortening of the rotation has paid off in spades, and it should be fully anticipated that he sticks with the hot-hand approach again in this one. Kira Lewis had one of his worst games of his short career this past Saturday, but the true freshmen is too good to let that fester into a slump. This will (hopefully, because no one wants to see any NIT games played in Coleman this March) be the last time Donta Hall, Riley Norris, Avery Johnson Jr., and maybe even Dazon Ingram and Daniel Giddens don the crimson and white in Tuscaloosa, and they surely don’t want their final memories of this place to be a depressing loss to Auburn.

You could make the argument that this is one of most important games of Avery Johnson’s tenure in Tuscaloosa. With so much at stake riding on this game regarding the Tide’s postseason plans, and with it being Senior Night against Auburn, this feels like as much of a must-win as one could possibly face. Avery needs to have this team ready to go.

The game will tip-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.

Also, please keep in mind that, while we are rivals on the court, we are neighbors off of it. A lot of folks in Lee County and the surrounding area are really, really hurting right now after suffering incomprehensible loss in the form of deadly tornadoes that hit this past weekend. Most of us know all too well how badly the people of that area need our support. Please see Erik’s post about how you can help others in this time of recovery. And make sure to hug your loved ones the next time you see them.