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#4 Auburn at #24 Alabama Game Preview and Open Thread

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Massive week for Auburn begins in Tuscaloosa tonight

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

Tuesday January 11th, 2022

Auburn Tigers at Alabama Crimson Tide

Airplane Hangar - Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Time: 8:00PM CT

Network: ESPN, Auburn Radio Network

Finally, the country can begin shifting their entire focus away from the pigskin and look to see what’s going on in College Basketball. Well look at there, Auburn’s a Top 5 (!!) team now!

After Auburn’s 3-0 start in the SEC and 14-1 start overall, Auburn has climbed all of the way up to the #4 spot in the AP Poll only behind Baylor, Gonzaga and UCLA. While Baylor and USC (at #5) are the last 2 undefeated teams in the country, Auburn is one of just 7 teams in America coming into today that is either undefeated or has only one loss. That will certainly be tested for the Tigers this week and it begins tonight on the west side of the state.

In a highly anticipated game for months, Auburn will meet Alabama (11-4, 2-1) on the court for the first time this season with the Crimson Tide desperately needing this win to protect homecourt and get back on track after a baffling loss at Missouri on Saturday. As for Auburn, there’s no better way to prove you’re worthy of a Top 5 ranking then by going on the road to your cross-state rival and beating a really good team.

The last time Auburn was ranked #4 in the polls was two years ago and the Tigers dropped their next 2 games, at Alabama and at Florida (and both were not close). So tonight’s a chance to erase that memory for Auburn.

Auburn comes into tonight’s game after an 85-73 win over the Florida Gators, only the second regular season win over the Gators since the turn of the century. The thing that makes this Auburn team great is its a different guy(s) every night that leads this team.

On Tuesday night at South Carolina, it was the Wendell Green and Zep Jasper show. Saturday night was the KD Johnson and Jaylin Williams show. With Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler battling foul trouble, Jaylin Williams was tremendous off the bench, and finished with a season-high 14 points. And then there’s KD Johnson, who had struggled the previous few games but led Auburn with 23 points, knocking down a trio of 3s in the process.

Jabari Smith spent almost all of the first 10 minutes of the second half on the bench due to foul trouble but when Auburn needed a bucket with the Tigers clinging to a 1-point lead, Smith pulled up early in the shot clock and drilled a 3. That started a 13-4 run that provided the Tigers with the breathing room to hang on for a victory.

Walker Kessler had just 6 points along with 8 rebounds and 3 blocks but dealt with significant foul trouble for one of the first times all season and fouled out with 2 minutes left. Tonight’s a great opportunity for Kessler to get back on track as the Tigers will look to take advantage of the frontcourt matchup tonight will pose

We talk a lot about the positives but one thing to note going into a hostile environment tonight: The turnovers are concerning for Auburn as the Tigers have turned it over at least 16 times in each of the first 3 SEC games. And with all due respect to South Carolina, that was not a hostile environment last Tuesday night in Columbia. Tonight should be a different story.

Get to Know Alabama

I have said this many times on this platform and on Twitter but basketball in the state of Alabama is in great hands with Bruce Pearl at Auburn and Nate Oats at Alabama. While Alabama certainly got the preseason love after winning the SEC Championship last season, it’s been an up and down year to start for the Tide.

The Good: They have one of the best wins of the non-conference season going to Seattle knocking off Gonzaga and then beating Houston, a 2021 Final Four team, a week later. They also beat Miami on a neutral floor which is looking better by the day with the Canes knocking off Duke in Cameron Saturday night.

The Bad: Alabama suffered some offseason injuries that have effected their front court and Alabama did not look too impressive against lesser competition and their defense has taken a step back this season.

The Ugly: Losing at Missouri on Saturday. Missouri came into Saturday’s game at 160 in KenPom and scored a season-high 92 points in their upset victory.

Alabama has losses to Iona, Memphis, Davidson and Mizzou but has played one of the toughest schedules in America coming into this one and they should certainly be focused going into tonight’s game.

The Crimson Tide come into tonight’s game averaging 82.5 PPG but have also given up 74 PPG. Alabama is currently 17 in KenPom overall, sitting 8th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 59th in adjusted defensive efficiency. As a team, they shoot 46.5% from the field and 32.7% from 3. They have attempted 29.3 3-pointers per game this season. Remember when Auburn was doing something like that?

Junior guard Jaden Shackelford (#5) flirted with transferring closer to home in the offseason but elected to stay in Tuscaloosa for at least another season. Shackelford is averaging 16.3 PPG and 5.9 RPG so far this season. He has knocked down 49 3s so far this season and is shooting 39.2% from 3 this season (49-125). Shackelford has 49 more 3-point attempts than the leading Auburn Tiger does this season (Green and Smith each have 76 attempts). He had 28 points in their win over Gonzaga back in December.

Junior guard Jahvon Quinerly (#13) is averaging 15.5 PPG and is tied for the team lead in assists on the season with 65. Quinerly, who played a season at Villanova before transferring to Alabama, is shooting 25.9% from 3 so far this season.

Senior guard Keon Ellis (#14) is averaging 12.2 PPG and a team-leading 6.2 RPG. He is shooting 34.5% from 3-point range this season. He is the team leader in steals and Ellis is also the team’s best free throw shooter averaging about 88% from the charity stripe.

As for the frontcourt, sophomore forward Juwan Gary (#4) averages 9.6 PPG and 5 RPG. Gary had 19 points and 8 rebounds in their win last Wednesday at Florida.

Likely rounding out the starting lineup will be 7-foot freshmen center Charles Bediako (#10). The Canadian is averaging 6.8 PPG and 4.5 RPG and is the team’s leading shot blocker.

Off the bench is freshmen guard JD Davison (#3) who was Mr. Alabama in basketball his junior and senior seasons of high school. Davison has been thought of as a potential one-and-done prospect and is averaging 8.3 PPG and 4.9 RPG and like Quinerly, is averaging 4.3 APG to lead the team. He is shooting 31.3% from 3 so far this season.

Grad student forward Noah Gurley (#0) is a player Auburn pursued in the transfer portal last offseason before he chose to go to Alabama. The Furman transfer was an 1100 point scorer with the Paladins and has mostly come off the bench this season averaging 7.3 PPG this season.

Sophomore forward Darius Miles (#2) rounds out the primary rotation for Alabama averaging 6.6 PPG and shoots 35% from 3-point range this season.

Prediction

With the significance of tonight’s game, I wanted to give the rest of the staff an opportunity to give their predictions for tonight:

Josh Dub

Auburn 82 Alabama 67, Defense Travels.

AU Chief

Auburn 88 Alabama 67, Buck Fama

Ryan Sterritt

Auburn 89 Alabama 70

Son of Crow

Auburn 91 Alabama 79, Jabari Smith: 25-10-10 (Blocks)

James Jones

94-40. Scratch that. 95-40. Break the record.

While the rest of our staff is incredibly confident (and Barning Hard), I guess I’m going to be the bad guy here. Look, even the best teams in the country lose games in this sport. It’s so hard to go through a season unscathed and this league is an absolute gauntlet. Look at what happened to Alabama Saturday, you can’t just walk into an opponent’s arena and expect to win. Road wins in this league are gold and Auburn has one of those chances tonight.

If this game was in Auburn tonight, I would pick the Tigers, but it’s not. This is a game I have dreaded for weeks now because no matter what Alabama had done going into this game, I can’t help but think that Alabama is going to play their best game of the season tonight. They went to Seattle and knocked off Gonzaga. They beat Houston, a Final Four team from last year as well. Alabama can beat anybody but as evidenced so far this season, they can lose to anybody as well. It’s pretty evident they have simply played up (and down) to the level of their competition all season long and they should be laser focused tonight with Auburn coming into town. Friend of the site Jerry Hinnen made a fantastic point earlier on Monday that I had to share:

Alabama NEEDS this game, plain and simple. I have thought this game would be a loss for quite awhile and despite recent events, I’m not changing my stance on that. And even if this below comes to fruition, it’s not the end of the season! Win or lose, there’s still plenty of hoops left in front of us.

Alabama 78 Auburn 74