The Iron Bowl of Basketball tips for the second time this season. This time the venue changes to Auburn Arena, a place where the Tigers have won 13 consecutive games dating back to last season. Auburn will come into tonight’s matchup at -5.5 on the board.
Alabama is easily the most difficult team to forecast this season. Nate Oats has guided the Tide to some massive victories (Gonzaga, Baylor, Houston) and wins against teams that are really good in their respective conference (Davidson, Iona, Louisiana Tech, South Dakota State). About a month ago, the wildness began. That’s when Alabama lost to Missouri, added a disappointing loss to Mississippi State, a disaster to Georgia and needed a furious comeback to avoid the Mizzou sweep. Then, there was Baylor.
Baylor is the effort that makes them so tough to predict. It’s all there. It was to start the season. Oats’ has been railing against the effort of his team, calling into question their “blue collar” work on the court for a couple of weeks now and it looks like it may have sunk in. Or at least he didn’t have to worry about it against a really good team. Maybe this team just plays to the level of their competition. Well, they got another really good team tonight and I expect nothing short of a monster of a game.
Auburn’s accolades precede them. They are the top-ranked team in the country for the second straight week and are on fire. They are not only 20-1, but those guys are 16-5 ATS and 10-1 ATS at home (the loss was as a 28.5-point favorite against North Alabama and they won by 26). They have everything you could want in a team not only to win a bunch of games, but to look good doing it.
Alabama rolls in with just a single road victory (at Florida 27 days ago). That’s concerning considering Alabama isn’t a very good defensive team. They are 318th in points allowed per game. 82.8 vs 71.8. That’s the difference in Alabama’s defensive efforts on the road vs. at home. In SEC play on the road, Alabama is 1-2-1 ATS.
It’s going to be a madhouse on the Plains. Auburn Arena is growing, under Bruce Pearl, as a extremely hostile environment for road teams and many commentators have called it the best current environment in college basketball. Nate Oats on Monday said, “That place is gonna be nuts, because they don’t seat very many people.” It’s part of a larger quote and if you heard it, it seemed fairly innocuous but you know how this works: the students get that quote and we will hear a few more decibels just because of it tonight.
Auburn had a 14-point lead with eight minutes left in the game the last time these two met when Alabama rallied to tie the game with three minutes to go. Auburn made the shots they needed to at the end of the game to hold on and Alabama couldn’t. Auburn did this without Walker Kessler. He scored two points in 12 very foul-heavy sporadic minutes before finally fouling out. Since then, he’s averaging 17.6 points per game (was 9.3 per before) and shooting 71.7% from the field. He’s also 4.2 blocks per game and notching 8.8 rebounds per.
Tonight feels like an Auburn night. The -5.5 feels heavy but we have gotten the spread to come back to us from opening at -7. I suspect it might come down to -5 at some point. Alabama’s big wins all highlight why they can be garnering money. Auburn at home has won by 15, 12, 23 and 9 in SEC play. What makes this Auburn team so different than the Final Four team (and maybe better) is that they don’t have to rely on hot shooting nights from three to win. In fact, they might be third in the SEC in making those but that makes them 203rd in the nation. Auburn can grind and that really helps them here because you know the stats I love: defense. Auburn blocks 8.0 shots per game (1st), allows team to make 39.1% of their buckets (20th) and forces 9.2 steals per game (t-20th). If Auburn can limit Alabama on the offensive glass, it could be a long night for the Tide. I think they can and I think a fully available Walker Kessler will make things tough for Alabama inside. I’ll take Auburn -5.5.