The Crimson Tide basketball team will return after its week off to face the LSU Tigers on Saturday night in Coleman Coliseum. Tip-off is set for 7:00 CST, with the game being televised regionally on FSN and streamed world-wide on ESPN3.
The Tide have won 7 of their last 8, sit in second place in the SEC standings with a 4-1 record, and are riding some serious momentum after beating Kentucky and Auburn last week. The Tide can strengthen its grip atop the SEC West standings and keep pace with Florida for tops in the league with a win.
LSU meanwhile is trending in the opposite direction. They were pretty bad in non-conference play, going 8-7 with losses to Nicholls State, North Texas and Rice without a single win against a team in the top 200 of the Pomeroy ratings. The started off SEC play with a win at Auburn--likely ensuring they will avoid being last in the SEC--and then followed up with an upset of Arkansas at home, but their last three games haven't gone nearly as well. The Bayou Bengals got a 38-point beat-down at Kentucky, a 27-point floor-mopping at home by Ole Miss, and then a 22-point thumping at Tennessee.
Third-year LSU head coach Trent Johnson won the SEC championship in his very first season in 2009 after inheriting some decent talent from former coach John Brady. However, virtually all that talent disappeared after that season, and the Tigers had to rally late in the season last year to avoid the same kind of history that Tony Barbee and Auburn are looking to avoid this year. Johnson brought in a solid recruiting class this season, but it's going to take more than one class to rebuild, and right now LSU is doing the best the can relying mostly on that freshman class.
LSU fans are understandably frustrated with Johnson after two straight years of being one of the weaker major-conference teams in the nation. After all, after Kentucky, LSU is right there in the conversation along with Alabama and Tennessee for second-strongest historical program in the SEC, so they're used to winning. Johnson is a good coach, I believe (see SEC title in his first season), and if he can continue to bring in solid recruiting classes like this year's, the Tigers should be on a path back to being competitive, he just has to find a way to get more talent.
As for this year's bunch, LSU's biggest strength is that they are a very disciplined defensive team. They rank 35th nationally in effective FG% defense and 4th nationally in opponents' assist rate, both indicators that they don't allow teams to dissect their defense easily and get good shots. That said, their overall defensive efficiency numbers are hurt a bit by their weakness in defensive rebounding rate (255th nationally) and their defensive turnover rate (203rd nationally). Their defense ranks 100th nationally in overall efficiency, behind most teams in the SEC but well ahead of West foes Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and of course Auburn. Don't be surprised if they force Bama's mediocre offense into some bad shots, but Green and Mitchell should have some chances to get some second-chance points, and if the Tide plays with focus we should be able to avoid costly turnovers.
Offensively LSU has been pretty abysmal this year. Their offense ranks 283rd nationally in overall efficiency, just barely ahead of Auburn. The biggest issue here overall is lack of playmakers, but LSU's offensive problems go even beyond that. They rank at the very bottom of Division I basketball in giving up blocks (316th) and steals (328th), a very bad sign for Trent Johnson given that Bama's defense is near the top of the nation in those two categories. Their only bright spots offensively are offensive rebounding and drawing fouls. Bama's defense shouldn't be challenged by this group if we play up to our standard.
Read below the jump for full LSU roster breakdown and game analysis...
LSU's young team is led by a pair of freshmen stars on the perimeter. 5'9" Andre Stringer is the team's starter at point guard, where he averages 12.6 points and 2.6 assists per game. 6'5" Ralston Turner starts out on the wing, where he leads the team with 13.7 points per game. Turner, a Muscle Shoals native, received an Alabama offer from the current staff but we likely missed out on him in the midst of the Gottfried/Grant coaching change, which occurred right in crunch time for the 2010 recruiting class. Turner has missed several recent games for LSU with an injury--no doubt a contributing factor to their recent blow-out losses--but he's expected to make his return on Saturday night in his home state. Stringer and Turner, in addition to being the team's two biggest scoring threats, are also the team's two best 3-point shooters. Both average right at 2 made treys per game and both shoot at about a 1/3 clip.
LSU's other starter on the perimeter is 6'4" sophomore Aaron Dotson, who averages 7.3 points and 2.0 assists per game. 6'7" freshman Matt Derenbecker comes off the bench to contribute on the wing, where he averages 6.5 points per game, while 6'1" junior Chris Bass comes off the bench as the back-up point guard.
LSU's starters in the post are 6'9" junior Malcolm White, a transfer from Ole Miss, and 6'7" junior Storm Warren. White is third on the team with 8.4 points per game and second on the team with 5.6 rebounds per game. Warren averages 6.6 points per game and leads the team with 6.1 rebounds per game. Neither player has great range, but White is the more polished offensive player while Warren is the more athletic of the two.
6'11" junior Garrett Green is the first post player off the bench, where he contributes 6.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He has better size and range than White and Warren, but isn't as good defensively. 6'9" sophomore Eddie Ludwig also sees plenty of action in the post as a bench option.
LSU's has some nice freshmen on the perimeter who could become the backbone of some solid LSU teams down the road, but none of their perimeter scorers are particularly terrifying for opposing coaches. They also have a decent mix of athleticism and skill in the post, but again, not really enough to trouble teams with solid talent there.
Playing this game at home, Bama should be able to win, and win easily. As I said earlier, our defense should have no real trouble with this team, which means that our offense merely needs to take care of business in this one. In fact, if this game is even close late in the second half, it could be a bad sign for the Tide. If Bama wants to compete with the big boys in the East down the stretch, we need to be able to handle the league's weaker teams at home.
That said, I wouldn't be surprised if this one is ugly for most of the game. LSU's defense is disciplined enough to frustrate us at times, and if we don't execute and make shots on the offensive end, it could make for a less than pleasant experience for Bama fans. On the other hand, if we do play up to our standard defensively and can execute pretty well offensively, there's no reason Bama can't win comfortably and keep our momentum rolling in front of what is expected to be a packed house of Crimson Tide fans.