I’ve been covering Tide Hoops for Roll’ Bama Roll for ten seasons now and have been watching Alabama basketball for over a decade prior to that. I’ve seen my fair share of Alabama-Auburn basketball games - some with some decently high stakes, most just ugly affairs that no one outside of us sickos who followed these two teams for most of the 21st century would have actually sat through. Both programs went through ~15 years of turmoil during this time - Alabama was mired in mediocrity from 2007-2019, constantly stuck on the bubble before flaming out in February nearly every season, while Auburn spent nearly all of 2004-2017 as the worst high-major program in the country.
This era of depression on the hardwood peaked almost exactly ten years ago to the day, as Alabama and Auburn put on the Worst Basketball Game Ever Played:
In case you decided to skip the video - which I cannot stress enough would be a huge mistake - here was the box score to that infamous game:
That’s right, folks. Alabama held Auburn to 13 points at halftime....and got blown out. The two teams shot 25/65 (38.5%) from the floor, which included 4/28 from three, and combined for 30 turnovers and 32 fouls. This game probably single-handily cost the Tide a shot at the NCAA Tournament that year. Any committee member who actually bothered to turn on this wretched filth on a cold Wednesday night in February almost certainly got the plague or some sort of phobia of the game of basketball.
That’s what this game used to be. A solid Tide team playing a garbage Auburn team with absolutely nothing on the line except Alabama fans just praying that the Tide wouldn’t succumb to Auburn voodoo. Now, College Gameday is rolling into Lee County on a February morning for a high-stakes affair that sees the past two regular season SEC champs going at it. #3 Alabama (21-3, 11-0 SEC; Kenpom: 2; T-Rank: 3; NET: 2) - well on it’s way to yet another regular season SEC title (thanks Vandy!) - rolling onto the Plains a day before the actual Super Bowl for Auburn’s (17-7, 7-4 SEC; Kenpom: 27; T-Rank: 27; NET: 32) own Super Bowl.
Nate Oats has resurrected Alabama basketball back to the Glory Days of C.M. Newton and Wimp Sanderson. Bruce Pearl has made Auburn an annual contender after decades of trash. And the eyes of the college basketball world will be on Neville Arena for the Tide and Tigers to clash on the hardwood. As annoying as Auburn being good at anything is, that’s still pretty remarkable.
POINT 5’11 Wendell Green (13.9 PPG, 4.4 APG, 3.4 RPG, 94.9 DRtg)
GUARD 6’1 Zep Jasper (3.3 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 1.0 APG, 103.4 DRtg)
WING 6’6 Allen Flanigan (9.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 95.9 DRtg)
POST 6’8 Jaylin Williams (10.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.4 APG, 95.0 DRtg)
POST 6’10 Johni Broome (13.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.2 APG, 86.7 DRtg)
Off the Bench
GUARD 6’0 K.D. Johnson (8.1 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 99.1 DRtg)
GUARD 6’2 Tre Donaldson (2.1 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 1.3 APG, 92.2 DRtg)
GUARD 6’4 Lior Berman (2.1 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 100.9 DRtg)
WING 6’6 Chris Moore (4.8 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 99.1 DRtg)
POST 6’10 Yohan Traore (2.5 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 104.6 DRtg)
POST 6’11 Dylan Cardwell (4.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 91.1 DRtg)
When Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler went pro after last season, many rival fans of the Tigers were absolutely licking their chops, because that meant that the diminutive trio of obnoxious guards from last year’s Auburn team - Wendell Green, K.D. Johnson, and Zep Jasper - would have to lead the offense this season. The results have been...not great. Auburn is 60th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and 345th in the country in 3P% at 29.2%. Jasper (34.1%/29.6%/63.6%; 4.2% AST%) and Johnson (35.4%/26.3%/74.6%; 11.3% AST%) have regressed hard, too. With both of them taking a step-back, the offense has run mostly through Green this year - who has been incredibly erratic (37.8%/28.2%/81.2%; 31.9% AST%; 18.5% TO%). He’s capable of being absolutely electric on the offensive end, but it’s plagued by maddening inconsistency and dumb decisions.
Allen Flanigan has been a steadying force for the Tigers (10.7% REB%; 10.2% AST%), but he’s not exactly a shooter, either (44.9%/32.9%/77.2%). The post is where Auburn really gets most of their production this season, which I know must hurt Bruce Pearl’s soul. Jaylin Williams has developed into a nice stretch-four in his fourth year on the Plains (46.1%/36.6%/73.1%; 10.5% REB%), and Morehead State transfer Johni Broome has done a solid job replacing the aforementioned Kessler as a traditional big that can run the floor (52.9% FG%; 11.1% AST%), rebound (19.1% REB%), and protect the rim (10.6% BLK%). He’s really quite elite at the latter, where he ranks 12th nationally in BLK%.
Off of the bench, Auburn has some really talented players that just haven’t put it together yet. Tre Donaldson and Yohan Traore were both highly-rated prospects in the 2022 class, but it just hasn’t clicked for either one of them yet. Chris Moore is an athletic wing who has shown a decent shooting stroke, albeit on very low volume (51.5%/42.9%/75.9%). And Dylan Cardwell is an explosive, long shot-blocker who has spent two seasons rotating in for one of the best shot-blockers in the country with little-to-no drop-off (12.0% BLK%). Lior Berman is a former walk-on from Mountain Brook who does get some minutes as mostly a pure jump-shooter (44.0%/37.5%/60.0%).
Three Keys to Victory
- The Three-Point Line. Now, I know I just spent the whole roster portion of the preview telling you that Auburn is an awful three-point shooting team. But we all know how Auburn voodoo works; much-lesser Tiger teams than this one have suddenly shot 20% points higher from three than their season-long averages as soon as Alabama rolled into town. Wendell Green, Jaylin Williams, Chris Moore, and Allen Flanigan are all capable of getting hot from downtown. Auburn has to hit shots in order to beat the Tide on Saturday afternoon, and I can guarantee you that they will try. On the flip-side, Auburn is 4th in the country in 3P% allowed, so Alabama needs to work to get guys open for good looks. Auburn is 5th overall in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency as a whole, so the Tide will need to move the ball quickly and decisively in general.
- Crash the Glass. This game is going to be a brawl. Auburn will be looking to make this as physical as possible, and the glass will be no exception. Both teams are very good at getting offensive rebounds - Alabama is 47th in the country in OREB% while Auburn is 22nd - but the Tide has a significant edge defensively, as they are 149th in OREB% allowed vs Auburn who is 298th in that category. Extra possessions and second-chance points could loom large in this one, so Alabama needs to flex that size advantage.
- Avoid Contested Shots at the Rim. Going up against Florida was a great tune-up for this game, as Alabama faced a similar shot-blocking force in the paint in Colin Castleton on Wednesday night and did a great job of avoiding empty possessions in the form of blocked shots. The Tide will need to follow that gameplan again Saturday afternoon. Broome and Cardwell are elite shot-blockers, and nothing would hurt the Tide more than to have a bunch of swatted shots end up with run-outs on the other end for Auburn.
It’s going to be absolutely nutty in Neville Arena Saturday afternoon. Nate Oats said himself that this is Auburn’s Super Bowl - they’ve got students setting up tents as I type this out. With College Gameday on campus for the first time in the series history, it certainly feels like it. Both of these programs have come a long way since that hideous performance on the old Jefferson-Pilot-turned-SEC Network Wednesday night
shitshow. There will definitely be a coronation and recognition of the improvement of both programs before the game.
But, once the game tips-off, Alabama needs to remind these clowns who the best basketball program in the state really is. Because it sure as hell isn’t the one that resides in Lee County. Early lines seem to indicate that the Tide is a 3-point favorite for Saturday’s 1:00 PM CST tip. Let’s hope Nate Oats’ squad is ready to go. The game will be televised on ESPN.