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SEC Tournament First Round Open Thread: Alabama vs. South Carolina

SEC Tournament First Round Opponent: Alabama Crimson Tide

SB Nation Community: Roll Bama Roll (they have a good preview here)

Record: 16-4 (6-10)

Season Thus Far: We were talking Tide just a week ago when they came to Columbia. After pulling off the upset against us, 'Bama went on to defeat their nemesis the Auburn Tigers to wrap up the season with a winning overall record. Their two wins last week took away some of the sting of several straight losses.

Like ourselves, 'Bama comes into the tournament on the NIT bubble, likely needing to win this game to keep their season alive.

What to Expect: Again, you already know 'Bama, so I'll keep this brief. The main difference between this game and the last is that 'Bama has star forward JaMychal Green back for this game. Green provides 'Bama with a versatile big man that will create matchup problems for our bigs.

Of course, considering that backup Justin Knox had his best game of the season in the added minutes he got during Green's absence against us, maybe the key in this game isn't so much to worry about Green as it is for our big men to just come to play. Green or no Green, it's unlikely that 'Bama could have a better game from its frontline than it did last time if we actually show up. The key to the Tide's surprising victory in Columbia was their complete dominance of the glass, particularly all the second-chance points they got off of putbacks. I strongly believe that Coach Horn lit a fire under this team's butt before the Vandy game and that we won't see such lackadaisical play again this afternoon. We may be a small team, but that performance was inexcusable. As we've proved in many games this season, we're capable of protecting the glass, and I think we do it today.

The other issues for 'Bama remain the same as before, particularly that we need to deny Mikhail Torrance and Senario Hillman. We can't allow Green's return to force us to get lazy on the perimeter as we try to protect the block.

What It Means: Of course, everyone who isn't a lock is playing for the conference's autobid. Considering the small likelihood of us getting that, though, it's worth noting that this game is essentially an NIT play-in game for both teams. While our record isn't particularly impressive even for an NIT bid, we have a strong RPI due to our three marquee wins against the Richmond Spiders, Kentucky Wildcats, and Vanderbilt Commodores. (It should be noted that all three wins are probably stronger than any we picked up last year, which is why our RPI isn't all that much worse than last year despite the dramatic difference in overall record.) If we can bump our RPI up a few more spots with a win over RPI top-100 'Bama, we should get into the NIT regardless of what happens in Round Two against Kentucky. I think this is the case despite the fact that the NIT bubble has shrunk a good bit due to the outcomes in the conference tournaments.

Prediction: If this team can play anything like it did against Vandy, it can not only win this game but perhaps a couple more, as well. With everything on the line, I expect you'll see more torrid play from us, particularly from Devan Downey. I'm calling for a close 'Cocks victory.