My Two Cents: Every game worries me to some extent, but this game worries me extra because I'm not certain that Auburn's 20-point win at Auburn Arena was a fluke. As the Arkansas game showed, Alabama's defensive play, as good as it's been this season, is stressed when they find themselves matched up against a team in which they can't key on one particular player, and one that plays at a high tempo that can score. It puts stress on the defense to play at a high level for 40 minutes, and it further stresses an offense that struggles to score no matter the tempo. With that in mind, Auburn presents some real match-up issues for our guys. The good news: if there is a silver lining to the beat-down Alabama received on Wednesday night, it's that this team has done a good job of shaking off a bad performance and playing better basketball the next night out. With the possible exception of the 2nd half at Texas, our guys have not played worse than they did in Fayetteville on Wednesday night. I expect a much better performance on Saturday.
Players to Watch: I'm going to highlight Donta, Jimmie and Bola for the second straight game. In the first game at Auburn, freshman Austin Wiley, who had just turned 18 years old, dominated the paint against two seniors and a sophomore. Wiley's performance was key to Auburn eventually breaking open a close game. That can't happen again if Alabama is going to win this game. Auburn doesn't have much size outside of Wiley and Horace Spencer (who may not play in this game due to injury) so Alabama needs to get back to dominating the paint.
As mentioned, Austin Wiley's stat line in this game will say a lot about the final result. But it's important to remember that an outburst by talented freshman, Mustapha Heron went a long way as well in Auburn breaking the first game open. And the Tigers other talented freshmen, Jared Harper and Danjel Purifoy, did not have great games so the law of averages could enter into play here. As with Arkansas, Avery Johnson and his staff can't focus on one guy to defend, which makes this game terrifying.
Prediction: For Alabama to win most of their games, they need to keep the tempo in check, holding their opponents in the 50 or 60 point range. They did that for the majority of the game at Auburn before it got away from them late so the hope is our guys can do that again, but for 40 minutes this time. Auburn also had 40+ free throw attempts in the first game, which also played a big role in their victory. I don't expect to see a similar free throw stat for Auburn on the road, but they've got good players that can be quite dynamic when they're locked in. If they're able to control the tempo early, and make this Alabama team play from behind, it could be a nervous evening for those of us watching. However, this Alabama team has shown some mental toughness in battling back from adversity this season, plus they should have a good crowd on their side. I expect a close game, but the good guys win. Alabama - 69 - Auburn - 66