After laying a massive egg in Columbia this weekend, Alabama basketball returns to Coleman Coliseum to face Auburn. All the Tigers have done lately is reel off eleven consecutive wins. On the season, they have scored a robust 80 points per game and allowed only 65 points while generally winning on the boards. Like Alabama, they favor a fast pace and shoot a ton of threes, which should create a fun watching experience. Nate Oats is 3-1 against Auburn since his arrival at Alabama.
POINT 6’1 Zep Jasper (5.6 Pts, 1.0 Reb, 3.1 Ast)
GUARD 6’1 K.D. Johnson (12.8 Pts, 2.3 Reb, 1.3 Ast)
GUARD 6’6 Devan Cambridge (7.3 Pts, 3.3 Reb, 0.8 Ast)
POST 6’10 Jabari Smith (15.5 Pts, 6.4 Reb, 2.1 Ast)
POST 7’1 Walker Kessler (9.9 Pts, 7.7 Reb, 4.1 Blk)
Auburn’s starting lineup has been fairly set for the bulk of the season. One-and-done freshman Jabari Smith is the scoring leader and potential #1 overall pick in June’s NBA Draft, with no real weaknesses in his game. Kessler transferred in from North Carolina and has been a devastating rim protector while also contributing plenty on the offensive end. Having two dudes of that size is a real luxury for Bruce Pearl and company, particularly since Smith shoots 45% from three.
Outside, K.D. Johnson is the key. He is a high volume three point shooter at 4.3 tries per game in 25 minutes, and has knocked down 34% of them. All four starters outside of Kessler shoot at least 32% from three, so the defense can’t afford to lay back on any of them.
Off the Bench
POINT 6’1 Wendell Green (12.7 Pts, 4.1 Reb, 4.6 Ast)
GUARD 6’6 Allen Flanagan (7.0 Pts, 4.3 Reb, 1.0 Ast)
WING 6’8 Jaylinn Williams (7.4 Pts, 2.8 Reb, 1.1 Ast)
Auburn can get a bit deeper into their bench, but these three are the primary reserves and dominate the bench minutes. Green was a starter at the beginning of the year and is a steady playmaker at the point. Flanigan is a long, rangy wing who was the leading scorer on last year’s squad, where he averaged 30 minutes and 14 points per game. Williams has come on strong of late with four games in double figures including 14 points in Saturday’s win over Florida.
Three Keys to Victory
- Box out. We sound like a broken record on this, but opponents’ offensive rebounds have been a major problem for this year’s squad. If they don’t make a better effort in this game, Kessler and Smith will dominate in this area. Auburn is tough enough to defend on the initial shot, allowing multiple looks in one possession is a recipe for getting blown out.
- Win the threes. This goes both ways tonight since Auburn shoots nearly as often as Alabama does with 25 tries per game, and makes 35% to Alabama’s 33%. Alabama needs to try and generate transition threes for themselves while limiting opportunities for Auburn. Noah Gurley’s ability to pull Kessler away from the basket could pay dividends for Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Shackelford on the dribble drive.
- Protect the basketball. Auburn can be a handsy bunch, averaging 9.7 steals per game, which obviously leads to many of the transition threes mentioned above. Quite simply, Alabama won’t win this game if they play sloppy, as we have seen at times this season.
It wasn’t long ago that Alabama was ranked in the top ten. We’ve seen the potential that this team has when they play their best basketball. If we see an effort on both ends of the court like we did in Seattle, then the Tide could win this one going away. If they play more like they have for most of January, they will be licking their wounds tomorrow morning. Both of these teams usually bring it for their in-state rivals, so hopefully we get a fast-paced, high scoring affair that ends with the good guys on top.
The game will tip off at 8pm CT on ESPN.