Alabama men’s basketball looks to bounce back in a big way against No. 4 Auburn

Austin Hannon, Staff Reporter

Three days ago, the Alabama Crimson Tide endured their worst loss of the season, dropping 92-86 to the unranked Missouri Tigers (7-7) in Columbia, Missouri. Tuesday night, Alabama returns home to what should be an energetic Coleman Coliseum to host the No. 4 Auburn Tigers (14-1).

The Tigers were 13th in the SEC in the NET rankings at No. 235. Missouri was Alabama’s first loss to a non-Quadrant 1 opponent of the season, and the Crimson Tide “failed its maturity test” according to Alabama head coach Nate Oats.

The loss dropped the Crimson Tide (11-4) to No. 24 in the latest AP poll. With a win against Auburn, the Crimson Tide could make up for the Missouri loss and then some.

But Alabama is not just going to walk into the gym and beat the Tigers. The Crimson Tide will have to show improvement to knock off the top team in the SEC.

The Tigers have earned their No. 4 ranking, winning 11 in a row since Nov. 24. Auburn’s single loss to Connecticut, 115-109, came in double overtime in the Battle 4 Atlantis over Thanksgiving break.

The Tigers have plenty of resume-building wins. Auburn has beaten Loyola-Chicago and Syracuse, and won on the road at Saint Louis. Auburn has started the SEC schedule 3-0 with wins against No. 12 LSU, South Carolina and Florida.

Just two weeks in, Auburn is one of just two unbeaten teams left in conference play. The Tigers are versatile on the offensive end. 

Auburn’s leading scorer is forward Jabari Smith, who has been just as good as advertised. The former five-star is averaging 15.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game and can beat opponents inside-out. Smith is shooting almost 45% from 3-point range and is a prolific midrange scorer.

Teaming up with Smith down low is 7-foot-1 forward Walker Kessler. Kessler, a transfer from North Carolina, has been a menace in the paint averaging 7.7 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game. He’s quickly becoming a threat on the offensive end, scoring in double figures in five of the last six contests.

Like Alabama, Auburn has strong guard play. Guards K.D. Johnson and Wendell Green Jr. are both averaging almost 13 points per game. Johnson, who transferred from Georgia, scored 23 against UConn and 27 in the Tigers’ last game, against Florida. Green has scored double digits in seven straight games.

Auburn also has guard Allen Flanigan back. Flanigan, who missed the first 11 games with an Achilles injury, was on the preseason All-SEC first team.

To beat the Crimson Tide, who lead the SEC in PPG with 82.5, a team must be defensively sound. Auburn is currently sitting seventh in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings.

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl, in his eighth season with the program, has made the Sweet 16 at every program he’s coached, including a Final Four appearance with Auburn in 2019.

Everything lines up for the Tigers to continue their winning streak against an Alabama team coming off a terrible loss. But history would say otherwise. 

The Crimson Tide are 44-9 against the Tigers in Coleman Coliseum, including 10 of the last 12 matchups. This matchup in Tuscaloosa feels similar to Oats’ first time coaching against the archrival when Alabama knocked off 15-0 Auburn 83-64 in January 2020.

The oddsmakers are not too quick to rule out the Crimson Tide either. Alabama is favored by a full three points Tuesday night.

Tipoff from Coleman Coliseum is set for Tuesday, Jan. 11, at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN.