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TRips: Three questions for UA-AU

Here are three questions for tonight's (8 p.m. CT/ESPNU) SEC basketball game between Alabama (15-7, 4-4 in SEC) and Auburn (13-10, 3-6) at Auburn Arena.

Mitchell's second-half swoon couldn't have come at a worse time for Alabama.

Isn't it a little late in the season for a player suspension?

When it comes to disciplining players, it's one thing to bring a guy off the bench, but it's another to leave him home altogether.

In the case of Tony Mitchell, the bench apparently didn't motivate the junior as much as Anthony Grant would have liked. We'll find out in the coming days if some time on the couch rouses Mitchell from his second-half funk.

The ideal scenario: Alabama takes care of rival Auburn on the road, proving to itself and Mitchell that the Crimson Tide can stay afloat without the services of its most versatile player.

And then there's the NIT scenario: Alabama takes it on the chin against an inferior opponent, fueling the notion that this team not only lacks the offensive firepower needed to make the NCAA Tournament, but it also has chemistry issues rivaling those of the New York Jets.

The biggest concern with the Mitchell situation is that we're talking about a player who has been in the program for nearly three seasons. This isn't a true freshman struggling to adapt to Grant's demanding regimen.

If it hasn't taken root for Mitchell by now, then when?

Is it realistic to expect the kind of bench performance Alabama got against Ole Miss on a regular basis?

Not likely for a couple of reasons.

First, Ole Miss has no bench, so that 34-8 edge UA reserves enjoyed against the Rebels is the exception, not the norm. Andy Kennedy plays seven guys and you get the feeling he'd have absolutely no problem going Norman Dale if a player or two fouled out.

Secondly, Mitchell produced 14 of Alabama's bench points in the Crimson Tide's win over the Rebels. As previously reported, Mitchell will be in Tuscaloosa tonight. Meanwhile, the game will be played in Auburn.

Grant didn't play 11 guys against Ole Miss because he's got 11 guys he feels good about. He played 11 guys because he's still in search of eight he feels good about.

On a positive note, Charles Hankerson gave UA a huge lift off the bench against Ole Miss, scoring 10 points and Andrew Steele knocked down a huge jumper and free throw in the final minute of the second overtime to seal the win.

More importantly, Grant can count on both Hankerson and Steele to bring intensity -- if not scoring -- to the floor on a nightly basis. With Mitchell out, the duo will take on added importance tonight.

Does this have the feel of another South Carolina performance?

That's probably not a fair comparison because Auburn is a good bit better than the Gamecocks. And given that the Tigers sit three games under .500 in league play, that should tell you were Alabama's loss to South Carolina two weeks ago ranks in the Grant era at UA.

The point differential between Auburn guards Frankie Sullivan and Varez Ward, a Texas transfer, and the Alabama backcourt will be something to keep an eye on tonight.

Sullivan and Ward combined for 40 points in AU's 91-88 loss at Mississippi State over the weekend, while Alabama's three starting guards, Trevor Releford, Trevor Lacey and Levi Randolph, combined for 13 points in UA's win over Ole Miss.

The Man says: Alabama -5.
Prediction: Alabama 60, Auburn 57.

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