Alabama 57, LSU 38: Initial Impressions

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The Crimson Tide basketball team completed a season sweep of the LSU Tigers with a 57-38 victory on Wednesday night in Coleman Coliseum. Roll 'Bama Roll reacts with some initial impressions...
  • With its second straight win, Bama is now back to .500 in the SEC at 3-3. I called this game a must-win, and fortunately we delivered. A loss would have been a season-killer, and we avoided defeat with continued stingy defense and some improved 3-point shooting in the second half.
  • The obvious story line here for anyone who even glanced at the final score is the fact that we held LSU to only 38 points for the game. Now, admittedly LSU is no offensive juggernaut and is currently dead last in the SEC at 0-6, but still, let's put that 38-point tally into perspective. In their four games against other SEC teams the Tigers are averaging 65 points per game. Not great numbers certainly but not all that bad either. Through 20 games this season they have only been held under 52 points twice--both times against Alabama. In terms of raw scoring, it was the best Alabama defensive performance since the advent of the 35-second shot clock in 1985.
  • So what was the key to the Tide's defensive success on Wednesday night? Well, in case you haven't been following Bama basketball this year, our defense is nothing short of spectacular, especially given our overall weakness on defense the last several years. Like they have for most of the season, the team came out and played with a great deal of intensity on the defensive end and did an excellent job of executing the coaching staff's game plan. That game plan centered around rotating defenders like Hines, Mitchell, and Green on LSU's star forward Tasmin Mitchell. Mitchell didn't play a great game himself, and the announcers even suggested that he may not have been feeling well during the game, but Bama kept fresh defenders on him all night and did a good job double-teaming him when necessary. He made some plays in the first half, but we defended him about as well as could be hoped for. The biggest key to disrupting the LSU offense however was the outstanding perimeter defense on display all night, especially the pressure exerted on guard Bo Spencer. Without Spencer becoming a factor, the LSU offense...well...scored 38 points.
  • Continue after the jump for further detailed analysis of the game and individual player performances as well as a brief look ahead...
  • Also be sure to look out for the Auburn game preview some time later in the day on Friday...
  • Probably the number one biggest key to our defensive improvement this year has been our work on switching off of opponents' screens on the perimeter. You can tell the coaches have worked hard on this at practice and by this point in the season it's becoming obvious. Unlike years past where we were slow to switch or adjust to screens, which often broke down the defense and left too many shooters open for 3s, we now have become so adept at playing the screens that opposing guards are finding it difficult to get enough space to shoot from deep or drive the lane. There has been no better example of this than last night, when LSU's offense nearly broke the shot clock buzzer with all their 35-second possessions where they couldn't crack our defense.
  • Offensively, things weren't pretty for much of the game. To begin with, we only managed 19 total shots in the first half. In our defense, much of this was due to LSU milking the shot clock down on several occasions, but we also had a few too many turnovers and were generally a little sluggish offensively in the opening period. LSU also did a better job of preventing us from getting out in transition than they did in our previous meeting in Baton Rouge. Like I said in the game preview piece, we didn't need to have a great offensive performance to win, and that proved to be the case in this one.
  • Things didn't really open up for us offensively until the 3-pointers started falling in the middle of the second half. In what was by far our best 3-point shooting performance of the season, we canned 7-of-10 attempts from the arc in the second half to finish 9-for-17 for the game. Three of those 3s came in furious flurry midway through the second half in which three consecutive steals on defense led to three straight made 3s on offense in a span of only 37 seconds. Considering LSU had only mustered 29 points in the first 29 minutes of game action, our 9 points in 37 seconds put the game essentially out of reach with 11 minutes still left to play. This performance showed why it is so important for us to make our 3s, as despite a record-setting defensive performance, this game may very well have been in doubt in the final minutes had it not been for our ability to make the open 3-point attempts we were given. 
  • Individually, the first player that stands out in this one was junior guard Charvez Davis. In his first season of major college ball as a JuCo transfer, he has been probably our biggest 3-point threat all season long. His lightning-quick release and good shooting touch enable him to get off clean looks from the halfcourt offense if the defense gives him even a small amount of space. However he hasn't been able to hit consistently when the team really needs it most, likely just a result of him still making the adjustment to the next level. Last night though he finally started to look like he was gaining confidence, going a spectacular 5-of-7 from beyond the arc in only 18 minutes of action. His play thusfar reminds me a lot of Mykal Riley's first season with Alabama coming out of JuCo three years ago. You could tell he was a great shooter from day one, and hit several big shots even early on, but he didn't really come into his own until the last half of the conference schedule that first year. The following year, his senior year, he was an all-out threat and playmaker from beyond the arc. Hopefully we can see similar growth from Davis the rest of this season and especially into next year.
  • Two Bama players hit for double-doubles, and neither of them was named JaMychal Green. Once again freshman Tony Mitchell rose to the occasion, and it looks like the starting spot on the wing is going to be his to lose from now on. Another big-impact performance all over the court, as his 10-point, 10-rebound double-double attests. He also had 3 steals, 3 valuable offensive boards, and perhaps most importantly, knocked down both of his 3-point attempts. I'm still not convinced that I like him taking many 3s for us right now, but like I said in my last post-game piece, if he starts knocking those down consistently, he'll be an All-SEC-type player in the near future. The other double-double for the Tide came from senior point guard Mikhail Torrance. He scored 10 points in the game, slightly below his average, but that was largely because he spent the whole game setting up his teammates. 11 assists with only one turnover speaks for itself. Not really a lot I can say about Torrance that hasn't already been said, but just for emphasis I'll repeat that he is the leader of this team and the driving force of the offense.
  • Speaking of Green, he had a quiet night (for him) with 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. LSU's taller Dennis Harris kept him in check around the goal and he had a little trouble getting shots to fall, going only 3-for-9 form the field. Still, it wasn't a bad game for him and he played very good defense and didn't force anything offensively, as the Tigers seemed to want to take him out of the game as much as possible. Bama's other two post players similarly had quiet but solid nights. Chris Hines once again got the start alongside Green, and was a very big factor in keeping LSU's Mitchell in check. His quickness and versatility on defense is very valuable given the lack of depth we have right now. Justin Knox played 15 minutes off the bench and was able to knock down a couple of big jump shots from the high post area to keep the Tigers defense honest when the game was still tight.
  • On the perimeter, Alabama got another workmanlike performance from junior guard Senario Hillman. He showed once again why he is the team's best perimeter defender by owning LSU's best guard, Bo Spencer, on the defensive end and forcing 4 steals on the night. He also hit a big 3 during the second half run. Senior guard Anthony Brock was scoreless for the game. Luckily we didn't need his shooting in this one, but he needs to step it up from here on out. He only has a dozen or so games left in his career. Freshman point guard Ben Eblen saw six minutes of action. He has absolutely no scoring ability at this point in his career, but as the team's only true point guard on the roster, he has an important role to play in holding things together when Torrance goes out for breathers or foul trouble.
  • Now 13-7 on the season and 3-3 in the SEC, Alabama's postseason hopes are still alive. Remember, we need to be above .500 in conference play to have a shot, so we still have a long, long way to go. Things will really start to get hairy from this point on too. Six of our remaining ten games are on the road, and considering that we already played our two easiest road games (LSU and Arkansas), that's not something to look forward to. With the way Coach Grant has this defense going though, we should be able to hang around in almost all of our games, home or away. It will just be a matter of how well we execute offensively in those tough environments. Next up is a date with Auburn on the Plains this Saturday. In typical Jeff Lebo fashion, Auburn is not especially good or talented, but is well-coached and dangerous and is almost guaranteed to be at their best when Bama comes to town. That game more than almost any other could determine our postseason fate. Look for a game preview sometime Friday.
  • If you like intensity, discipline, and hard-nosed defense--and what self-respecting Bama fan doesn't?--you should be following this team. Yes, we're rebuilding, but the roundball Process is well underway and we shouldn't give up on this season as simply a rebuilding year just yet. Beat Auburn. Roll Tide.
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