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Bama Basketball Breakdown: #8 Auburn

After taking a drubbing in Knoxville, Alabama looks to rebound against another top-ten rival

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

After suffering its first conference loss of the season, the Alabama Crimson Tide (12-6, 4-1 SEC; NET: 9; Kenpom: 8) is back home tonight for another major showdown with the top-spot in the SEC standings on the line. The schedule-makers didn’t really do Alabama any favors during this stretch, as the Tide goes from playing one top-ten rival to another in back-to-back contests. With the beating in Knoxville now in the rearview mirror, the Tide will have to rebound quickly as Bruce Pearl brings his 8th-ranked Auburn Tigers (16-2, 5-0 SEC; NET: 7; Kenpom: 5) to T-Town.

Unfortunately, Auburn is red-hot right now. Owners of the nation’s 4th-longest winning streak (11), the Tigers have dominated everyone they’ve met thus far in SEC play, and you know that Little Brother will absolutely bring its best tonight to Coleman Coliseum for its Super Bowl. This year’s group isn’t the most talented that Pearl has had down on the Plains, but it is by far the deepest. In fact, Auburn might be the deepest team in college basketball, as they have ten guys averaging over 15 MPG this year. They are a group of vets who all know their roles and play them extremely well.

This is going to be an outright brawl tonight. I fully expect this one to emulate the instant classics these two teams played in last year, and I will take advantage of any opportunity to post the highlights from them:

We are truly in the Glory Days of this rivalry on the hardwood, as Nate Oats has brought ‘Bama back and Bruce Pearl has created something special from absolutely nothing. These two teams have combined to win the last three regular season SEC titles and two of the past three tournament titles - although Alabama has done most of the heavy lifting in that time frame. For all of Pearl’s successes at Auburn, he does still have a losing record against the Tide (9-10), while Oats has enjoyed a 5-3 lead against the hated in-state rivals.

Can Oats and Alabama bounce back and extend that series lead on the Tigers?

The Roster

Starting Five

Aden Holloway: G, 6-1, 10.0 PPG, 3.3 APG, 1.4 RPG

Denver Jones: G, 6-4, 6.9 PPG, 1.6 APG, 2.2 RPG

Chris Moore: F, 6-6, 2.8 PPG, 0.9 APG, 1.4 RPG

Jaylin Williams: F, 6-8, 12.5 PPG, 2.1 APG, 5.1 RPG

Johni Broome: F, 6-10, 15.3 PPG, 1.7 APG, 8.4 RPG

Off the Bench

Tre Donaldson: G, 6-2, 7.3 PPG, 3.4 APG, 2.5 RPG

K.D. Johnson: G, 6-1, 7.6 PPG, 1.4 APG, 2.0 RPG

Chad Baker-Mazara: F, 6-7, 9.2 PPG, 2.1 APG, 2.9 RPG

Chaney Johnson: F, 6-7, 3.9 PPG, 0.6 APG, 3.6 RPG

Dylan Cardwell: C, 6-11, 6.1 PPG, 1.1 APG, 4.5 RPG

There is no better example of Auburn’s depth this season than looking at their backcourt, where Aden Holloway and Denver Jones split playing time with Tre Donaldson and KD Johnson nearly 50/50. All of them are inefficient, but capable scorers, and Holloway (26.0% AST%) and Donaldson (31.6% AST%) both run the offense well from the point. The interesting note about the backcourt rotation is that Donaldson (97.2 DRtg) and Johnson (92.3 DRtg) are the tougher, more physical defenders - which makes sense since Holloway is a freshman and Jones has spent most of his career as a scorer at FIU - but it is notable that Pearl doesn’t hedge his offense/defense splits more evenly.

The frontcourt is really what separates the Tigers from others though. Jaylin Williams and Johni Broome are both working on All-SEC seasons. Williams is a stretch four that has been around for five seasons now and has absolutely shot the lights out against Alabama nearly every time these two teams have met in his career. He’s been much more aggressive as a scorer this season (63.4%/45.2%/81.6%), and it’s paid off in spade for Auburn. Broome does a bit of everything in the post - he’s the team’s leading scorer (54.7%/27.3%/61.7%), rebounder (20.0% REB%), and defender (83.9 DRtg). He plays with a real chip on his shoulder, and Alabama’s bigs are going to have to perform extremely well tonight on the glass and defensively if the Tide wants to win.

Chad Baker-Mazara has also brought a lot of energy off of the bench. The San Diego State transfer is a big, physical wing who can get hot from downtown (44.6%/39.6%/88.7%). Chris Moore and Chaney Johnson are athletic wings with good size, and Dylan Cardwell is a shot-blocking expert (9.7% BLK%; 88.1 DRtg). All of these guys can rebound well, too.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Protect the Basketball. Turnovers are really hurting Alabama, as the Tide is now dead-last in the SEC in TO% since conference play began. Meanwhile, Auburn is first in TO% forced. Nothing hard-hitting here - if Alabama doesn’t take care of the basketball better than it has the past month, Auburn is going to win the game tonight.
  2. Offensive Movement. If turnovers are the reason why Tennessee beat Alabama the other day, the lack of movement on offense was the reason why it was a blowout. There was entirely too much standing around while one guy dribbles the air out of the ball from the Tide on Saturday. Tennessee clamped down on the perimeter and dared Alabama to beat them off of the dribble, and the Tide couldn’t do it with any consistency. I can guarantee you that Pearl has watched that game film dozens of times already - Auburn’s strategy is going to be exactly the same. Alabama has got to do a better job of cutting off-ball, setting screens, and heck, just getting up the court in transition. Alabama’s at its best when its bevy of shooters are getting clean looks from the perimeter - that has to be a point of emphasis moving forward.
  3. Match Auburn’s Physicality. Auburn, much like Tennessee, is a very physical team. Defensively, Alabama simply has to be a lot tougher, particularly in the paint. Auburn initiates almost all of its scoring from the interior, whether that be by driving hard off ball screens, cleaning up around the basket, kicking out to open shooters, or getting fouled and going to the free throw line. The Tide really needs to get better at keeping offenses in front of them, forcing jump-shots, and then finishing the possession with a rebound. On the other end, Auburn’s one big weak spot is one they’ve always had under Pearl - they foul a ton. They are 280th in Free Throw Rate allowed, as they are a very aggressive team. As much as Alabama wants to get guys open looks from the perimeter - which is absolutely what the team needs to be doing - the best way to go about that is by getting paint touches. Don’t be afraid to take a defender to the hole and get some help from the officials.

This should be another classic installment in what has become one of the most intense college basketball rivalries in the country in recent years. With first place in the SEC on the line, I would expect tonight’s meeting to be an absolute brawl. Can Alabama toughen up on defense and clean things up on offense enough to defend its home turf against the hated Tigers?

Alabama is currently listed as a 3.5-point favorite. The game will tip-off at 6:30 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN.