It’s been a rough couple of days for Alabama fans everywhere, with the Crimson Tide falling short of a repeat football national championship last night just a few days after Tide Hoops’ worst performance of the season in Missouri. But tonight, the 24th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (11-4, 2-1 SEC; NET: 22; Kenpom: 16) gets set to host a rare, top-five Auburn Tigers (14-1, 3-0 SEC; NET: 6; Kenpom: 7) team in Coleman Coliseum.
That’s right, for the first time in 35 years, Alabama and Auburn will meet as ranked foes on the hardwood. The Tigers, of course, are led by the lovely Bruce Pearl, who is looking to get back to .500 all-time against the Tide in his tenure on the Plains - which, to be fair, is one of the best records any Auburn basketball coach has ever had against Alabama. The Tigers will be looking for their 10th win ever in nearly 100 years in Tuscaloosa, but they definitely have the squad this season to pull it off.
As much as it pains me to say this - Auburn has a really damn good team this year. Guards that can create, a superstar wing in Jabari Smith who might go #1 in the upcoming NBA Draft, a massive big who is arguably the best shot blocker in the country, etc. This may be the best Auburn team of all-time (an admittedly low bar, to be sure, although the 1999 team was nasty). And Alabama doesn’t really match-up that well with them.
Still, Alabama has beaten the likes of Gonzaga and Houston this year - they should fear no team. Obviously, the way the guys played on Saturday will get them beat pretty much any time out on the court. But Alabama’s ‘A’-game is still among the best in the country. It’s time to get it together and right that ship now, especially if the Tide has any dreams of repeating as regular season SEC Champs. Because, unfortunately, Auburn appears to be the biggest competition.
The team needs to play defense like they did in the second half against Florida - fast, aggressive, and out on the opponents’ hands. The Tide doesn’t have the bigs to stymie Auburn’s front-court players in the paint, so they will need to deny entrance to the post as much as possible. Offensively, Jahvon Quinerly needs to keep the ball moving, and the rest of the guys need to be active off-ball. Jaden Shackelford has to be potent from the perimeter, Noah Gurley needs to stretch Auburn’s post players out, and Alabama needs to make shots tonight. As good as Alabama has been around the basket (58.1% 2P% - 8th in the country), Auburn’s shot-blockers will make it quite difficult for the smaller Tide to get many easy looks at the rim.
And for the love of God - rebound the basketball. Walker Kessler and company will have a field day if Alabama doesn’t do a better job of finding a man and boxing out.
The good news is, we know that the Tide is capable of doing all of these things. It’s time for Alabama to return to their early December ways if they want to be the team they are capable of being.
Hmm...fourth ranked, undefeated-in-conference Auburn comes into Tuscaloosa to play a Nate Oats-led Tide team. Where have I heard that before...
The game will tip-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN.
Roll Tide, y’all