Auburn vs. Alabama basketball preview: Tigers hope to duplicate their last SEC win

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Will a struggling Auburn squad have enough to pull off a win against its in-state rival?

The Auburn men's basketball game against Alabama, originally scheduled for Wednesday night, was postponed due to inclement weather. Now, It is set to tip 25 minutes after the conclusion of the lady Tigers' game against the Texas A&M Aggies, which begins at 5 p.m. CT Thursday.

This game is always interesting for a few reasons: one, it is against 'Bama; two, the annual presentation of the Iron Bowl trophy takes place at halftime; three, Auburn is on a 16-game SEC losing streak, and the Tigers' last conference victory came at home against Alabama on Feb. 6, 2013. Add to that, both teams have fanbases that are slightly disgruntled with their head coaches. I know not of Tony Barbee's fate, but all signs seem to point toward this being his swan song. I don't keep up with Alabama athletics enough to know if Anthony Grant is in hot water -- which is odd, considering I can rattle off random facts about every other team in the SEC. I guess this makes me an Auburn homer. I do know that the squeaky-shoe Bammers expected more than an NIT quarterfinals last year. One could make a case that they should have been included in the NCAA Tournament, but as an Auburn homer, that is not my case to make.

As I slowly come to the realization that Auburn administration might not fire Barbee and/or might not pursue Bruce Pearl as his replacement, there is a part of me that absolutely melts down at the thought of Alabama firing Grant and landing Pearl. I guess that is a heart attack for another day. Speaking of cardiac arrest, with all these down-to-the-wire hoops contests that we can almost undoubtedly predict the ending, don't you wish Auburn basketball would soundly beat the tar out of an opponent? I wont blame my drinking habits on hoops, but I would like to get back to the point in which I pour bourbon in a glass and not drink it out of the bottle. Alas.

I did a little research, and unlike like Alabama football, the preseason love for the hooping Tide was fairly conservative. Picked by the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook to finish ninth in the conference and ranked 33rd at the start of the season by kenpom.com, the Tide was also not listed in any top 25 preseason poll (AP Top 25, USA Today Coaches Poll). Alabama sits in sixth in the SEC with an overall record of 9-10 and a league record of 3-3. Pre-conference play, Alabama dropped its opener on a neutral court to Oklahoma, 82-73. The Crimson Tide have also lost to Duke, a mediocre Drexel, an average South Florida, an undefeated Wichita State and decent -- OK, very good -- Xavier and UCLA squads. Conference play has shown Alabama can be decent -- wins over Vandy, Mississippi State and LSU, and losses to Georgia, Missouri and Florida. However, look at the win over LSU. Alabama led by as many as 19 points, 47-28 at the 17:04 mark of the second half. LSU came on strong to tie the game at 64-64 with 6:57 left.

Kenpom currently ranks Alabama at 82 and Auburn at 163, but only has the Tigers losing by a point, 70-69. Auburn has a 44 percent shot at a W, which factors in the home-court advantage. Kenpom, at this time, also predicts a loss at Alabama in March, with a score of 74-65 and an 18 percent chance at victory. I think the only two games that Kenpom did not correctly predict in terms of W-L for Auburn this year were Northwestern State and Clemson. I really have no idea what to expect tonight. A loss would not be a surprise, and yet, neither would a win. It just comes down to fundamentals: good shot selection, rebounding and making free throws. And for the love of God, please no Lee Cassell.

Team Numbers at a Glance

Auburn Alabama
Scoring Average 73.2 70.6
Scoring Defense 72.2 67.0
Scoring Margin +1.0 +2.4
Field Goal % .449 .453
Field Goal % Defense .433 .416
3-Point % .323 .336
3-Point % Defense .387 .311
Free Throw % .685 .599
Rebounding Average 35.6 34.1
Rebounding Margin +1.1 -0.4
Turnover Average 12.8 12.2
Turnover Margin -0.2 +1.3

Personnel

Auburn Tigers

You know the expected starting lineup: guards Tahj Shamsid-Deen (5'10, 163 pounds), Chris Denson (6'2, 181), and KT Harrell (6'4, 216), forward Allen Payne (6'6, 225), and center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (7'0, 226). The bench should come as no surprise either: point guard Malcolm Canada (6'3, 224), center Matthew Atewe (6'9, 250), and forwards Jordon Granger (6'8, 200), Dion Wade (6'5, 170) and Alex Thompson (6'8, 204).

Alabama Crimson Tide

Grant started the following against LSU: forward Shannon Hale (6'8, 220), center Carl Engstrom (7'1, 285), and guards Algie Key (6'4, 195), Trevor Releford (6'0, 190) and Rodney Cooper (6'6, 215). Expect to see Jimmie Taylor (6'10, 240), Nick Jacobs (6'8, 245) and Levi Randolph (6'5, 205) off the bench. Retin Obasohan (6'1, 205) is the second-leading scorer, but did not play against Florida and LSU due to a hip flexor injury. As always, expect him to miraculously return for the game against Auburn, a la Florida's Casey Prather style. Sigh.

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