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BAMA vs AUBURN HOOPS PREVIEW: TIDE LOOKS TO KEEP ROLLING AFTER BAYLOR WIN

Auburn’s Jabari Smith goes up for a shot while defended by Alabama’s Keon Ellis and watched by Bama’s Charles Bediako and Jaden Shackelford (5) in Auburn’s 81-77 win over Alabama on January 11th in Tuscaloosa. (Photo Credit: Alabama News Network)

What a quick turnaround for the rematch of one of the better games played so far in the 2021-22 SEC basketball season. It was only three weeks ago that the number one ranked Auburn Tigers further broke the hearts of Bama fans, who already had their hearts broken by the Georgia Bulldogs the night before in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, by beating the Crimson Tide at Coleman Coliseum. Auburn, in the process, took a firm hold of Hoops supremacy in the state, the SEC, and ultimately the nation.

A lot has changed since that Tuesday night. The Tigers (20-1, 8-0 SEC) had just cracked the top 10 in the AP poll and the Tide (14-7, 4-4 SEC) were still ranked and just two weeks prior were ranked 6th in the AP poll. Auburn is now the number one team in the country and Alabama is still unranked even after beating number 8 Baylor this past Saturday. Bama still being unranked is due to their loss last week to Georgia, who came into the game winless in the SEC.

Fortunately, for Auburn, the changes stop there. Unfortunately, for Bama, being unranked is far from the only change since the first meeting with Auburn. Jahvon Quinerly has had his issues shooting the basketball and that seemed to create issues in other parts of his game, there have been lineup changes galore by head coach Nate Oats, largely to light a fire under the players but also because of some key injuries.

In the first meeting, Bama was able to erase a 14-point deficit late in the 2nd half to tie the game 77-77. Auburn went on to score the final four points of the game.

Let’s look at a few keys for Bama to avenge that loss and for Auburn to win the second in a row vs their cross-state rival.

BAMA’s KEYS TO VICTORY

In Saturday’s huge win over defending national champion Baylor the Crimson Tide showed a lot of what we saw from them in wins over Gonzaga and Houston. By the way, those two teams were also Final Four participants from 2021 along with Baylor. The question is, can the Tide replicate that energy at Auburn Arena, one of the toughest places to play in college basketball?

Energy is the key word and may be the biggest key to winning on Tuesday night. However, it’s questionable if it’s just energy or effort. Sometimes it appears the lack of effort has possibly been due to the lack effectiveness on offense. Against Baylor there was a lot more ball movement and player movement without the ball. Also, Baylor had issues staying in front of Quinerly, Jaden Shackelford, and JD Davison. That trio of Bama guards combined for 53 points. Add in the eleven points from Keon Ellis and you get 64 of Bama’s 87 points. Bama’s guard play forced Baylor head coach Scott Drew to go small and sit his two bigs who seemingly gave the Bears an advantage inside against Bama’s smaller interior.

It’s those types of things that set Bama apart last season. Bama forced to teams to play their game. So far, this season, Bama has mostly played everyone else’s game.

If Bama can play that way vs Auburn they could have the same type of success. In the first game, Auburn center Walker Kessler was in foul trouble early. Bama’s guard play may be able to get him in foul trouble again taking the ball strong to the hoop and not relying on contested three-pointers.

Other than that, and besides trying to keep Auburn star freshman Jabari Smith quiet as possible, it’s the usual things in a road game vs a great opponent. Bama has to cut down on turnovers and rebound strong. If Davison can keep the play we’ve seen from him lately, that could be a huge difference maker. You pretty much know what you’re going to get from guys like Juwan Gary inside, but a nice game on the interior from Charles Bediako would be huge for the Tide.

KEY FOR AUBURN VICTORY

Auburn iis the home team, so they will have a huge advantage. The Oklahoma Sooner found out just how much of an advantage Auburn Arena can be for the Tigers. It’s simply not an easy place to play. Alabama was able to win there last season, but that was a special Bama squad in front of maybe 1,500 people. Things will be much different this time around, but Auburn can’t get overconfident. Bama is definitely capable of coming in and winning the game.

Obviously, Auburn’s success starts with Smith. Their superstar freshman and possible top pick in the upcoming NBA Draft is everything he was touted to be coming out of high school. He’s Auburn’s highest rated recruit ever and he’s playing like it.

However, on Tuesday night vs Alabama, the importance of guard play could be even more critical. Guard play is said to be Auburn’s biggest weakness and if Bama’s guards play with the same confidence as they did vs Baylor, it could make things more difficult. In the first game, Auburn’s guard play was probably the difference. In the first game, KD Johnson and Wendell Green Jr. combined for 32 points and knocked down four three-pointers. A similar effort will be huge for the Tigers.

Defensively, the Tigers must stay in front of Bama’s guards. If they’re able to do that, the Tigers advantage inside should be enough if they don’t turn the ball over a lot.

PREDICTION

AUBURN 85 Bama 79

GOOD OUTWEIGHS BAD FOR OLE MISS AFTER SUGAR BOWL LOSS TO BAYLOR

On a night when a team loses it’s biggest bowl game in years, in somewhat embarrassing fashion, you would imagine the aftermath of such a loss would very deflating. Don’t misunderstand, losing 21-7 to Baylor in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and in the process seeing star quarterback Matt Corral go down to injury, is very depressing. However, when assessing the Rebels’ 2021 season and anticipating the future, there’s more good than bad in Oxford Mississippi.

First, the bad.

Losing Matt Corral to injury, early in the game, certainly set the tone and put Ole Miss at a huge disadvantage. Baylor’s defense was already going to be a bear (pun intended) to tame even with the SEC’s All Conference 2nd team QB. Without Corral head coach Lane Kiffin was forced to go with true freshman QB Luke Altmyer. Obviously, the results weren’t good. Corral was sacked twice before leaving the game and Altmyer was sacked seven times, for a total of nine. Altmyer also threw two interceptions in addition to Corral’s one.

It certainly wasn’t a good night at the Superdome in New Orleans. The worst part, however, was Matt Corral’s injury. Thankfully, it’s diagnosed as being just a sprained ankle. That’s excellent news for the soon-to-be NFL Draft pick, who could land somewhere as high as the first round.

It wasn’t the best of nights for the large contingent of Ole Miss fans, but the loss to Baylor and Corral’s injury should not damper their spirit.

Now, the good……

The Rebels, despite the loss, were still competitive with the Bears. Baylor, Big 12 champs and the number seven team in the nation going into the Sugar Bowl, is a really good team. Head coach Dave Aranda, who has SEC coaching experience as defensive coordinator with LSU, is doing a magnificent job building his program. The Bears look like a true contender going forward and Ole Miss still was able to hang with them. Baylor did next to nothing offensively and that’s credit to an Ole Miss defense that’s improved mightily all season.

Very rarely have the Rebels been adequate defensively. Even though they still have a long way to go, that’s starting to change. We already know Lane Kiffin will have the offense be explosive as ever, and that’s despite losing offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby. The foundation has been set, and for once, it’s seemingly on both sides of the ball.

Recruiting is only getting better. It’s a safe bet Kiffin will find his next star QB on the recruiting trail or in the transfer portal. Also, Altmyer, despite having the rough game overall, showed flashes.

Then, when looking back at the regular season, the Rebels showed signs of a team that’s simply learning how to win. For example, take a look at the Texas A&M. Close game throughout, but it was Ole Miss not the favored Aggies that made the winning plays to win the game. There’s still work to be done, but games like that usually ended in an Ole Miss loss.

So, while it wasn’t a good look for Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s night, the future is definitely bright. A program that’s had to suffer through a lot over the years can finally take solace that the good is starting to outweigh the bad.