With Alabama in the heat of the Southeastern Conference schedule, a successful trip to the Plains is a must for the Crimson Tide. Alabama’s four-game losing streak to start off left them no wiggle room in conference play. You can bet Auburn Arena will be rocking for the first edition of the Iron Bowl, hardwood style.
We can all agree Alabama is a very streaky team. Momentum and chemistry plays a key role in Alabama’s success as a unit. That’s all fine and dandy when you’re winning, but when things turn south, it’s very though to rebound. That is one reason this game is another big one for the Tide. Although Alabama is on a two-game win streak, they barely got by Ole Miss in double overtime.
The Tide has to limit costly fouls. It’s great when Alabama plays with intensity, but it gets the best of a couple of players at times. It is key for Alabama’s post players to stay out of foul trouble. The Crimson Tide has a chance to dominate Auburn in the post tonight.
Alabama deserves credit; Ole Miss led for most of the game on Saturday, but the Tide never let them run away with the lead. Alabama’s largest lead was only five points over the Rebels, and that was late in overtime. If Alabama goes down, they can’t let the opposing team run away with the score.
Alabama doesn’t have the shooters to make up a big deficit, so they must stick with the offensive game plan at all costs. Attacking the lane has to come first; Alabama should never heave up a three-point shot early in the shot clock. Anthony Grant has been criticized for Alabama’s long possessions in the past. I’m not sure why; Alabama’s offense relies on outside shots developing due to penetration. If the Crimson Tide is going to improve from the outside, they need to get some open shots.
Coach Grant has developed a style of play he wants Alabama to operate under for every game. If Alabama leaves that style, they suffer. The Tide has to stay focused on the defensive attack, there is no room for slacking. Alabama has some great defenders; Andrew Steele and Levi Randolph will play major roles defending the perimeter against Auburn.
Now to the Tony Mitchell situation. He is one of Alabama’s best players, no doubt about it. But from a distance he seems to have major attitude problems. He will make a big play on offense then slack on defense because he didn’t get the ball on the next possession. Things like that, especially from “leaders,” shouldn’t be tolerated.
Credit must go to Anthony Grant. It would be easy to allow him to play because he is the superstar, but he made a statement. Grant has shown time and time again that he isn’t afraid to sit anyone. He sat JaMychal Green after he received a technical foul in a very crucial point in the game. When you are working with a young team, you have to make your presence known. Anthony Grant did that on Monday afternoon.
Frankie Sullivan vs. Andrew Steele. These guys have been around the block a time or two. Both players serve as experienced leaders for their teams and have some true conference experience under their belts.
Frankie Sullivan is the leading scorer for the Tigers at 12.3 points per game. The junior guard does a little bit of everything. He averages 4.3 rebounds per game from the outside, which is good for a 6-foot-one guard.
Andrew Steele plays more of a specialist role for the Tide, but always has a hand in the game late. Steele is known for his great defense. He is a big physical guard. Truthfully, he looks more like a linebacker than he does a basketball player. Although he only averages 6.2 points per game, he makes his minutes count.
Steele usually comes off of the bench for the Tide and makes a big impact. He is one of those players that does a lot that never shows up on the stat sheet. From boxing out on long rebounds to setting screens for shooters, Andrew Steele plays a vital role in Alabama’s system.
Look for Alabama to show some diversity on defense early. Anthony Grant will probably use the opening minutes to feel out what Auburn is going to do on the offensive side of the ball. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alabama break out in a zone or full court press to start off the game.
Alabama should have an edge in the paint for the first time in several games. JaMychal Green, Nick Jacobs, and Moussa Gueye need to set the tone early. I was impressed by Alabama’s post play on Saturday against Ole Miss. If Alabama sets the tone early in the paint, shots from outside will open up.
Finally, bench scoring. Alabama’s bench had a great game vs. Ole Miss. Charles Hankerson Jr. showed his shooting ability from outside and his will to play on defense. With a jumbled lineup in the absence of Tony Mitchell, look for some of Alabama’s bench players to come up big.
With Tony Mitchell suspended, look for Anthony Grant to look for other options on the offensive side of the ball. Alabama might show some sets on Tuesday against Auburn that we haven’t seen before. It should be an interesting matchup at Auburn Arena on Tuesday night.
February 7, 2012 – 8:00pm CST
Auburn Arena (Auburn, Alabama)
ESPNU, streaming on ESPN3