No. 4 Auburn at Alabama
Where: Coleman Coliseum
When: 8 p.m.
Records: Alabama (8-7, 1-2 SEC), Auburn (15-0, 3-0 SEC)
Radio: 95.3 FM
There may be a debate about whether Auburn is the nation’s best college basketball team — the Tigers are ranked No. 4 in the latest Associated Press poll — but there is no doubt they are the hottest.
“They are really skilled, but the biggest thing is that they play hard all the time,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said as he prepares for his first Alabama-Auburn game. “There (are) no dips in their effort, in my opinion. I think it’s an every-game, every-play deal. They are bringing an intensity that we’re starting to figure out. But they’ve been doing it here for a couple of years, and that’s why they played in the Final Four.”
Auburn defeated Alabama 66-60 at Coleman Coliseum last March, part of a season-ending run that saw the Tigers reach the 2019 Final Four. At 15-0 this season, AU has won 27 of its last 28 games.
Alabama, meanwhile, is at 8-7 and 1-2 in the league.
“If we can scrap and claw our way back to .500 in the SEC, that’s as important as beating Auburn, to be honest with you,” Oats said.
That doesn’t mean he is downplaying the rivalry.
“You better not lose the game, that’s what I know about it,” he said. “The fans care a little bit more about this one, I think. I was here for football, although it was at Auburn this year. But we had the whole (buildup) the whole week leading up to it. So, I got a little bit of that. I was a fan for that one, and now, I’m in the middle of this one.”
Auburn has a deep nine-man rotation led by guard Samir Doughty and freshman Isaac Okoro. The Tigers can play a small, tenacious lineup or use 6-foot-11 Austin Wiley in the post. One of the best Auburn shooters off the bench is Memphis transfer Jamal Johnson, the son of former Alabama star Buck Johnson.
Attempts to ignite a bulletin-board war based on comments that Auburn forward Anfernee McLemore made in last October’s SEC Media Days in Mountain Brook where he said Tuscaloosa was his favorite place to play because “I like the look of disappointment on their faces when we win.”
Alabama’s players seemed disinterested in a controversy.
“We didn’t pay no attention,” junior guard John Petty said. "He’s just talking.”
Oats was slightly more expansive in his response.
“I had to figure out what he meant by all that,” Oats said. “But I think I got what he meant by it now. We’ll see tomorrow."
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt