Coming off of a desperately-needed victory on the road against the Georgia Bulldogs this past Saturday, the Alabama Crimson Tide (13-10, 5-5 SEC, NET: 40, Kenpom: 49) gear up for a huge week of Q1 opportunities. Alabama has not played well as of late, and the team has amassed quite a few losses over the course of the season, but as long as that NET ranking remains where it is, the Tide is going to be in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
Part of the reason why Alabama’s NET remains as strong as it is because of the Tide’s dominant 19-point victory over the Auburn Tigers (21-2, 8-2 SEC, NET: 15 Kenpom: 31) in Tuscaloosa back in mid-January (you can read all about that beat-down here in Brent’s game recap). Much has changed since that meeting, of course, as Auburn has gotten right back on track, winning six of seven since then. Meanwhile, Alabama lost Herbert Jones to wrist surgery and just recently put the skids on a three-game losing streak.
So, both teams have been moving in different directions since their first meeting. However, that was kind of the case going into that match-up as well, and we all saw how that turned out for the then-undefeated Tigers. Can Alabama stun Auburn again with a season series sweep of Bruce Pearl’s squad?
From Last Time
Three Keys to Victory
Perimeter Shots. Auburn rode hot shooting, especially from the three-point line, to their first Final Four appearance a year ago. I mean, they really let it fly from beyond the arc. Of course, that’s exactly the formula Nate Oats has installed at Alabama as well this season. So, there could be some serious fireworks tonight. The Tide have actually been much better than Auburn in this regard this season (Alabama: 36.4%; Auburn: 32.1%), but the Tigers have a number of guys who are capable of getting hot from downtown. They haven’t been the most efficient from three, but they are still highly effective at it. The Tide are coming off of their worst three-point shooting game of the season in Lexington this past weekend, so hopefully a return home will result in some friendlier rims.
Take Care of the Ball. Oats has significantly improved Alabama’s ball-handling over the course of the season, but the Tide is still averaging 15.5 TOPG. Auburn lives to turn teams over and get out in transition, so Alabama will have to be smart with the basketball tonight. It’d be nice to see less of Herb Jones as the primary ball-handler, but if Kira Lewis can’t settle down and cut down on the sloppiness that comes from his frantic speed, we might have to rely on Herb. Which isn’t ideal.
Prevent Dribble-Penetration. Auburn has been very inconsistent across the board shooting the ball, but they are 7th in the country in 2P% at 57.1%. Their guards are quick, their wings play strong through contact, and Wiley is a beast in the post when he’s on his game. Alabama has to force contested jump-shots tonight. I know that I said the same thing about Kentucky, and they ended up shooting like 800% from mid-range, but this really is the best path to a victory on the defensive end. Surely the Tide will benefit from some regression to the mean, right? Guys?
Check out this link to read the full Breakdown for the last meeting
The first meeting between these two was not at all what anybody expected for a number of reasons. For one, Alabama hung 83 points on the Tigers despite shooting just 42.9% from the field and less than 30% from the three-point arc. A lot of that came from turnovers that the Tide actually forced, which was a nice reprieve from the season-long pains of watching Nate Oats’ team lose one-possession games with minus-15 margins in points off turnovers.
Auburn was really bad in this game. The Tigers shot an abysmal 31.7% from the field, 25.0% from the three-point line, and 56.7% from the charity stripe. They also committed 21 turnovers and 31 fouls (and if you know how hard it is for opposing teams to commit fouls in Coleman Coliseum, you know that is a heck of an accomplishment). It was a disastrous performance for an Auburn team that was extremely confident in themselves coming into the game.
Love to Hear It; What About This Meeting?
Let’s just say I’m quite a bit less confident than I was in the potential upset last time. The most obvious reason for this is the loss of Herb Jones. Sure, Auburn was totally off as a team on the offensive end last game, but Herb had a lot to do with that. He was affecting shots and disrupting dribble-penetration all over the court. The rest of the team is going to have to step up tremendously in his absence, because the play on the defensive end against Georgia this past weekend was not encouraging.
Also, Auburn’s surely going to shoot the ball better than they did in Tuscaloosa. The good news on this front is that Alabama didn’t exactly set the nets on fire themselves, so both teams should see positive regression to their season-long means. In fact, I’d say that a hot night shooting is going to be required if Alabama wants to leave Lee County with another huge Q1 win over their hated rivals. Based on what I’ve seen all season, it’s hard to expect that Auburn will shoot anywhere nearly as poorly as they did or lose the turnover battle as significantly as they did last time. They did out-rebound the Tide that night, even with a healthy Herb, so I’d expect Austin Wiley to dominate on the glass and Auburn to win the rebounding battle again.
How do you make up for all of that? You knock down shots and you keep attacking relentlessly. John Petty has been mighty quiet lately; now would be the perfect time for him to have one of his signature shooting performances. Kira Lewis has to play like he did against Georgia, when he went for 37 points on 12/21 shooting and had seven assists to only three turnovers, but that will be a much tougher assignment going against Auburn’s veteran guards as opposed to the freshman Georgia sent out there the other night.
I will say, much like last time, Alabama is due for a win and Auburn is well overdue for a loss. Ken Pomeroy (who I reference frequently) has a statistic on his website that he calls “luck”. It’s essentially the difference between a team’s actual record and the expected record that team would have based on their efficiency ratings. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Auburn is currently the luckiest team in college basketball, according to Kenpom. Meanwhile, Alabama is 325th. And that’s not including the fact that Alabama’s rotation is a shell of what it should be, thanks to injuries and the NCAA. Meanwhile, Auburn has had a perfect bill of health all season (though senior forward Danjel Purifoy may not be able to go tonight).
So, who knows? Maybe the basketball gods finally smile upon the Crimson Tide, Petty drops a 40-burger, and Alabama completes the season sweep over Little Brother. Lord knows that a win in Auburn is long overdue for Alabama. A win tonight would really change the tune to how this season has played out in recent weeks, that’s for sure. Can Oats and the Tide shock Auburn again?
The game will tip-off at 6:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN2.