Auburn basketball: Tigers will test perfect record in Tuscaloosa

Auburn basketball will travel to Alabama for a Wednesday night game against the Tide with tipoff set for 8 p.m. (central time) Jan. 15.

Auburn swept Alabama last season, but the Tide have a new coach and a new identity under Nate Oats that could give Auburn some trouble.

It seems like the way to beat Auburn is to play fast and make a lot of threes. For example, in Auburn’s overtime win against Furman, Furman made 13 three pointers. Vanderbilt rallied late, and still lost, but made 10 threes against Auburn. NC State and Davidson, both games that Auburn controlled, went on runs against Auburn thanks to their combined 17 threes against the Tigers, and Alabama could possess the means to force another close game.

In preparation for the first installment of the 2020’s Iron Bowl of Basketball, Matthew Landry of the Crimson Crossover gave a few of his thoughts on what to watch for.

According to Landry, Alabama is built more like a team that can hang with Auburn than they were last year.

Landry: The biggest difference is definitely shooting and pace of play. This year’s team is shooting a higher percentage of threes and knocking down a good portion of them. I’d have to look at the stats but I believe Alabama sits near the top in threes made and three point percentage in the conference. This has led to the team scoring many more points. The team is playing much faster which I think bodes well in this matchup as well as in SEC play as a whole as long as you control turnovers. More possessions equals more points. These two things have been major differences. 

He’s right. Alabama is second in the SEC in three point percentage and first in the SEC in three pointers made per game.

That’s what teams need to do to hang with Auburn, and based on Oats’ comments, that’s what Alabama wants to do.

Luckily, defense travels, and Auburn has a good one. Auburn’s defense will need to come out clicking, especially if the Tigers have another slow start on offense. Alabama could have a chance to go up big at home if they come out and start hitting shots during a slow start for Auburn.

Despite the changes in style, Alabama’s roster is similar to last year’s outside of the departure from Donta Hall.

Injuries and turnover have kept Alabama from completely replacing Hall, but the Tide have remained a good rebounding team. However, Alabama could be in for a long night when it comes to defending Austin Wiley.

Landry: Front court is my personal biggest worry when it comes to matching up with many teams, Auburn included. After the Mississippi State game I am more confident. State came into Coleman as one of the top, if not the top, offensive rebounding teams in the conference, Alabama actually won the rebounding battle in that one. Per ESPN, Auburn is currently ranked first in rebounding at 42.0 per game immediately followed by Alabama at 41.6 per game. So this is definitely a concern with Wiley being so big, but if the Alabama bigs stay disciplined, box out and stay out of foul trouble I think they’ll have a shot.

One thing I’ve noticed about Alabama is that they rely on their guards for a lot of their rebounding. In fact, John Petty is their leading rebounder and averaging 7.3 rebounds per game. Kira Lewis Jr. and Herbert Jones come in behind Petty with just over five rebounds per game each.

Alabama’s true big man, Javian Davis-Fleming, who is listed at 6’9 and 240 pounds, is only averaging 4.5 rebounds per game.

Auburn (being one of the best teams in the country at drawing fouls) getting Alabama into foul trouble, at any position, could help Auburn in the rebounding game and the overall game.

Landry: That would force Alabama to play smaller. They’ve done a good job at staying out of foul trouble for the most part, but Alabama has limited options down low.

Last time Alabama beat Auburn in Coleman, it had “nothing” to do with rebounding and big men. Instead, it took John Petty lighting the Tigers up from deep and scoring 27 points.

Petty is currently having his best season at Alabama, and the Tigers defenders will have to try to keep him in check.

Landry: Alabama could definitely use a similar game from Petty, but this years team has scorers all over the court. If Petty puts up 27 I feel very confident Alabama will win the game. If Petty only puts up 12, I still think Alabama can win the game with the number shooters they have surrounding Petty in Kira Lewis Jr., Beetle Bolden, and Jaden Shackelford. Alabama can’t afford a cold game from these guys and Petty. Someone is required to get hot, but I don’t think it will take an out of this world performance from Petty to get the win. I think is all about team effort, team defense and high percentage shots. Should be a great matchup and I expect this to be a very close game! Alabama’s explosive offense and Auburn’s pesky, lockdown defense should make this a very fun matchup. 

It definitely has the potential to be a great game. A lot is on the line with Auburn’s winning streak at 15, and Nate Oats looking for his first big win at Alabama. Auburn should be in a good position to win the game, if they can get Alabama into foul trouble and hold the Tide to a reasonable percentage from three.

Tip off is scheduled for 8 p.m. central time on ESPN2.

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