Well folks, it’s been a long ride this year, but we have finally made it - it’s March 1st. Let the Madness begin. I couldn’t think of a better way to get this month started than by having the Auburn Tigers (19-10, 9-7 SEC; Kenpom: 29; T-Rank: 23; NET: 37) come to Tuscaloosa for the regular season SEC Championship coronation. Because no matter how anything else plays out this year, the Alabama Crimson Tide (25-4, 15-1 SEC; Kenpom: 3; T-Rank: 2; NET: 2) will have at least a share of the regular season title, which will be added to the rafters in Coleman Coliseum. Nets will be cut down tonight.
However, I would imagine that Nate Oats’ squad certainly isn’t interested in potentially sharing anything. A win tonight against the hated Tigers would give Alabama the outright title, which carries a lot more weight. Sure, it would lessen the impact of Saturday’s showdown with Texas A&M in College Station, but that’s not our problem. Plus, after the amateurish way that Auburn celebrated sweeping the Tide last year, watching them leave with their tails tucked while Brandon Miller and company cut down nets would be blissful.
Additionally, a win tonight pretty much locks Alabama in as a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament - which would be the first time in program history that’s ever been accomplished. You could potentially draw-up a scenario where three straight losses - even of the Q1 variety - to close out the year could drop the Tide a seed-line. Win tonight, and there’s no doubt about where Alabama will be when the selection committee reveals the bracket in just eleven days (!).
So, yeah, a lot at stake here tonight.
From Last Time
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.
Check out this link to read the full Breakdown for the last meeting
The previous meeting in Auburn was historic in terms of its hype and impact on both teams, and the performance that Alabama delivered in a win in that little gym was one of the best in the history of the rivalry. I say that because, honestly, the game went exactly as Auburn needed it to, yet Alabama still came away win a win. The Tide had a horrible performance shooting the ball, both from the perimeter (6/21) and the line (13/23). And although Auburn cooled off big-time in the second half, Wendell Green and Jaylin Williams attempted to put the Tide away early with their barrage of three-pointers, as the two combined to go 7/15 from deep for the game - the majority of those made baskets coming in the first half.
The Tigers also kicked the Tide’s butts on the glass, with 16 offensive rebounds allowing Auburn to attempt 13 more shots from the field than Alabama had. Bruce Pearl drew-up a perfect defensive game-plan - doing whatever he could to keep Alabama off the perimeter and the ball out of Brandon Miller’s hands. Miller still got his 13 points, but Nate Oats adeptly adjusted to Auburn’s overly aggressive perimeter defense by running PnR and slip-screens all day for easy looks at the basket. Alabama finished the day an insane 23/28 from two-point range. Mark Sears, Rylan Griffen, and Jaden Bradley all posted double-digits in scoring as they took turns getting downhill or floating into the corners for open looks off of the rotating defense. Griffen in particular had a phenomenal day.
Break Out the Brooms and Scissors
Since that meeting in Auburn, the Tigers have yet to recover from their Super Bowl hangover. Losers of seven of their last ten games, Auburn has gone from feeling pretty great about its NCAA Tournament prospects to just about being on the committee’s cut-line. In their most recent outing, Auburn got absolutely abolished by Kentucky in Rupp Arena 86-54. That road loss underscores a pretty consistent theme for Auburn under Bruce Pearl - they are half the team on the road that they are at home. The Tigers are 4-7 in true road games this season. Their four wins? Washington, LSU, South Carolina, and Ole Miss. Yikes.
Alabama is listed as a 10-point favorite for a reason tonight; however, the Tide’s recent play has been pretty uneven as well. At halftime of the game this past Saturday against Arkansas, Alabama had strung together three straight halves of uninspired play - beginning with the game against the hapless Gamecocks last Wednesday. Thankfully, the energy level was a complete 180 after the Tide came out of the locker room, as Alabama scored an incredible 58 points in the second half alone against the Hogs and their 11th-rated defense.
With the calendar now officially reading March, it’s crunch time in college hoops. Alabama has an opportunity to end this historic season with various accolades, rings, and trophies, but they will have to be on their A-game the rest of the way. Performances like last Wednesday in Columbia, SC will result in the Tide’s season ending earlier than expected. It would bring a great deal of confidence to the team if the fellas go out there tonight and dominate Auburn in a manner that they are capable.
The game is set to tip-off tonight at 6:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN2. Get there early if you are joining us in Coleman Coliseum, as there should be a packed house on-hand to watch the SEC regular season champs play one last game at home.