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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Auburn

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The SEC Champs go for the sweep against Bruce Pearl’s finest

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

Year Two of the Nate Oats’ era has been a historic one for the Alabama Crimson Tide (19-6, 14-2 SEC, NET: 7, Kenpom: 8). Tide Hoops fans have been treated to unbelievable heights this season - rare wins in places like Rupp Arena, record setting shooting performances (SEC-record 23 made threes against LSU, school record for most points in a conference game with 115 against Georgia), lofty NCAA Tournament seeding projections - but none of them compare to the latest accomplishment for Oats’ squad: an SEC Championship. The first in nearly 20 years.

If the Tide didn’t win another game this season, it would still be one of the finest in the school’s history. But, as the calendar flips to the wonderous month that is March, this year is far from over. The top-seeded Tide will enter next week’s SEC Tournament as the favorite to cut down the nets in Nashville, and will then turn around and hear its name called as one of the top seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament as well. Alabama hasn’t won the SEC Tournament since 1991, and has never made a run deeper than its trip to the Elite Eight in 2004. So, there is plenty of history still to be made this year.

But first, the Tide needs to handle a little business closer to home, as the Auburn Tigers (12-13, 6-10 SEC, NET: 69, Kenpom: 65) come to town for the final home game of the season. While the Tide has been undergoing a revival of one of the conference’s best basketball programs, Auburn has been cratering back to the cellar of the SEC. After arguably its best three year stretch of all-time, Bruce Pearl’s Tigers are a loss away from clinching their first losing season since 2016. Their conveniently-timed self-ban from the postseason ensured that this Saturday would be their final game regardless, but it’s not like this Auburn team would have been dancing either way. They were never close to being a tournament team this season, despite what their fair-weather fans might have tried to tell you before the year began (it is still one of their top 15 teams ever though, so there’s that!).

Alabama hasn’t swept Auburn since the 2015 season, Bruce Pearl’s first. A win tonight would also give Pearl a losing record against the Tide since he showed up on the Plains, so it would be sweet in a number of ways to send the seniors out with a win in their final game in Coleman Coliseum.

From Last Time

Three Keys to Victory

Defensive Rebounding. Even though the Tide has been playing significantly better basketball in the last few weeks, giving up second chance points via offensive rebounds is still killing Alabama. Auburn happens to be quite good at it too, as they are averaging 12.5 ORPG. A great way to get beat by a lesser team on the road is by giving up extra possessions. Alabama has to improve in this area.

Make the Tigers Earn it. Auburn is really bad at the free throw line (62.1%, 322nd in the country). There is absolutely no reason a team with as much depth as Alabama’s should allow Auburn to get open looks knowing how many points the Tigers leave at the stripe. Additionally, if Powell can’t play, the Tide can get really aggressive on defense trying to cause turnovers, because Alabama can withstand fouls being called, and Auburn will have a hell of a time trying to make things happen with their lack of ball-handlers.

Keep Up the Energy. The change in effort on defense, on the glass, and even in the offensive rhythm has been electric to start off 2021. Momentum is such a major part of college basketball, and Alabama has it in spades right now. Guys just feed off of each other, and, as they say, shooting really is contagious. If Alabama can keep it rolling the way the Tide has played the past few games, we could be talking about this team contending for an SEC championship.

Check out this link to read the full Breakdown for the last meeting

How about that prediction at the end there?

The previous meeting in Auburn was similar to the one last year - infuriating, yet, electric. About an hour before tip-off, Auburn conveniently announced that one-and-done, freshman phenom, Sharife Cooper, was deemed eligible to play, just in time for their Super Bowl. And while it was Cooper’s inexperience that cost the Tigers at the end of the game, he was also the only reason they were even competitive. He scored 26 points on 8/19 shooting and dished out nine assists to go along with four rebounds and a trio of steals.

The Tigers had entirely too much success getting the ball to the basket, shooting 21/35 from inside the perimeter. Again, a lot of that had to do with the Tide having zero film on Cooper’s abilities, but still, that’s way too easy.

Justin Powell did not end up playing in the game, and he still hasn’t returned since. The poor kid suffered a head injury in the game prior, so prayers out to him and his family that he is ok. However, it didn’t seem to make a difference at the free throw line, where the Tigers, of course, ended up converting 24/28 tries. Cooper was personally responsible for 9/10.

So that Cooper Kid is Pretty Good, Huh?

Yeah, without him in the line-up this year, Auburn has basically been garbage, with losses to teams like UCF and Texas A&M. He’s actually missed the past two games as well with an ankle sprain, and is listed as questionable for tonight. But, considering who his sudden debut came against, I wouldn’t bet on him sitting out this one, unless he simply doesn’t care about this waste of a season anymore and is ready to move on to the NBA. If it’s up to anybody other than himself, Cooper will be in the starting line-up tonight for part two of Auburn’s season.

Even if he does play, the one area he hasn’t made much of a difference in is on the defensive end of the court. Auburn’s defense has been tragically bad, ranking 103rd in the country in defensive efficiency. LSU hung 100 on them just ten days ago. Alabama’s offense has been in a bit of a lull for most of the past month, with the exception of playing defenses similar to the Tigers (LSU, Georgia). Hopefully, the lack of resistance, as well as the lack of pressure from chasing an SEC title, will reignite the Tide’s offensive attack. The guys will need to be much better at the rim than they were last time, when J.T. Thor, Dylan Cardwell, and Jaylin Williams combined to block 8 shots at the basket. Jahvon Quinerly was out for that game, so maybe his artistry on the dribble-drive will keep those big guys honest.

Other than that, this game is about fine-tuning some things and getting ready to peak for a March run starting next week. John Petty needs to get more shots up. Herbert Jones needs to work on his fouling. Jordan Bruner needs to keep working that rust off. Someone needs to find out where Josh Primo went. This week will go a long way in determining how the Tide’s season will end. Will Alabama crap-out with quick exits from the SEC and NCAA Tournaments? Or will the Tide cut down the nets in Nashville and make a deep run into March? Either outcome is possible at this juncture.

The work necessary to make the latter the true outcome begins tonight. Alabama needs to get the offense back on track, and a pair of match-ups against two of the worst defenses in the SEC is just what the doctor ordered. Sweeping Bruce Pearl and Auburn is just an ancillary endeavor.

The game tips-off at 6:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN2.