A Must Win Game?

Monday, February 4, 2019

A Must Win Game?

Bama looks awfully tough inside
(Billy Hurst / USA Today Sports)

     War Eagle, everybody! This weekend, we have the Iron Bowl of basketball at Auburn Arena as the Alabama Crimson Tide visits. A month ago, I’d have given Alabama little chance in this game, but things change. Despite Auburn’s big win over Missouri earlier this week, this is a team that is struggling in most games. Alabama is loaded where Auburn is thin.

     Auburn’s struggles in the paint have been well documented. In recent losses, both Horace Spencer and Anfernee McLemore have gotten into foul trouble, and Auburn has then had great difficulty in stopping SEC big men from just driving to the hoop for layups and dunks. Auburn hangs in games via raining 3-point shots, but that’s a mercurial solution. It comes and goes. A cold stretch usually means doom for this team.

     Alabama is a team that is dangerous. They have wins over Arizona, Penn State, and Kentucky this season. They come into this matchup with a record of 13–7, compared to Auburn’s 14–6. Most likely, either of these teams will have to get to 20 wins to make the NCAA tournament. A loss may eliminate one team or the other from contention.

     Auburn’s remaining schedule has Florida, at LSU, Ole Miss, at Vanderbilt, Arkansas, at Kentucky, at Georgia, Mississippi State, at Alabama, and Tennessee. Even if Auburn wins every one of the home matchups, it will need a road win to get to 20 victories. There is not an easy win left on the slate. Right now, Auburn is not playing well enough to deal with teams like Kentucky and Tennessee.

     For all the hand wringing, it is important to remember what happened in this matchup a year ago. Auburn had just 7 scholarship players available, and ran Alabama out of the gym, 90–71. If the shots fall, Auburn can beat anybody on a given night. Alabama will work hard to try and limit the opportunities of Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. Open looks will be tough to come by, I suspect, for that pair of guards.

     Alabama is fresh off a win over a ranked Mississippi State team and will be looking to knock off its rival on the road. Auburn really turned it up in the second half against Missouri and showed an ability to score from players other than Harper and Brown. That will need to continue Saturday night as Alabama will play out on the shooters. I am looking forward to seeing some good drives to the hoop from Auburn.

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