“How does this sound; The Alabama Crimson Tide are the SEC CHAMPIONS!” That was the call from Chris Stewart Saturday night. It feels pretty good doesn’t it? Alabama will finally hang another banner. I could write about it forever, but I’ll move on to the preview. Alabama faces Auburn in its final home game. Tip is set for 6:00 on ESPN 2.
The Opponent: Bruce Pearl’s Tigers come in to Coleman Coliseum having had a miserable season at 12-13. Even if Auburn were eligible for the postseason...they wouldn’t be. They’ve shown flashes of being a solid team, however. Auburn upset #25 Tennessee at home Saturday behind another solid game from Allan Flanagan and surprising stability from Jamal Johnson at the point. Tennessee has been abysmal offensively though. The test from Alabama will be a bit more complex. G Justin Powell has been ruled out while future lottery pick Sharife Cooper is listed as questionable. Coach Oats (along with the rest of Alabama’s fanbase) laughed at Pearl’s insistence that Cooper may not lace up.
Auburn scores 10 more points per game with Cooper in the lineup so he obviously improves the offense. Interestingly enough, Auburn also gives up 10 more points per game with Cooper. This leads us to conclude that Cooper flat out loses interest on the defensive end on a regular basis but it’s also proof of just how much his presence changes Auburn’s pace of play.
Players to Watch: For the obvious reason listed above, eyes will be on Cooper if he plays. However, the most dangerous Tiger in my opinion is Flanagan. Cooper will get his and Alabama can live with that to an extent. The Tide could be in trouble if Flanagan has a hot night from the perimeter while Cooper is driving and kicking to him. Herb Jones or John Petty will likely draw that assignment. Closing out and extending the defense beyond the perimeter without fouling will be the recipe of defensive success for Alabama.
Jahvon Quinerly has been on a tear for the Tide recently and it’s been a welcomed sight. You just never quite know what you’re going to get from Herb Jones as the primary ball handler so it’s imperative that Quinerly plays at a high level if Alabama is going to be anywhere near its best. Watch out for James Rojas and Keon Ellis though. These two have come off the Bama bench multiple times in clutch situations this season and gotten the job done. Ellis doesn’t the recognition he deserves on the defensive end and Rojas has a tendency for the big play. I expect at least one of them to reach double figures in scoring tomorrow night.
My Thoughts: It’s sobering to think that this is the last time that John Petty, Herbert Jones and Alex Reese will suit up inside Coleman Coliseum. Words can’t begin to express the impact these 3 (along with their walk-on classmates) have had on this program. All 3 could’ve thrown in the towel after lackluster seasons and coaching changes but they stuck with it and brought a SEC Championship to Tuscaloosa. I don’t think they’re interested in losing their last home outing. Alabama’s defense finally got back to the intensity it had when it was #1 in defensive efficiency in KENPOM about a month ago. I think the offense finds its rhythm again tomorrow. I expect the 3s to rain and Auburn’s season will end with a loss...to the SEC CHAMPIONS.
Prediction: Alabama 84, Auburn 74