It's that time of the year again everybody. The weather across the country is starting to warm up (hopefully for all of you), and with it, March Madness is heating up as well. With all of #SECBasketballFever coming together in Hotlanta for the week, anybody within a 100 mile radius will be scorching with the intensity of 1000 suns.
With Alabama laying the hammer on a previously red-hot Arkansas team on Senior Day, the Crimson Tide was able to avoid the Opening Round of Shame on Wednesday, and will instead take on the 7th seeded LSU Tigers (18-12, 9-9 SEC) on Thursday night. I'm sure all of you will recall that Alabama was able to best LSU in Tuscaloosa earlier this season 82-80 with Trevor Releford, Rodney Cooper, and Shannon Hale leading the way.
LSU has pretty much played at the same pace since the last meeting. The Tigers are still very athletic, and use that athleticism to dominate the boards and force a lot of turnovers defensively. However, they still turn the ball over a bunch themselves, and they don't take the best shots. It doesn't help that they aren't a very good free throw shooting team. LSU is coming off their second loss of the season to the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, and the Tigers seem destined to be in the NIT. However, they are a team that could make some noise in the SEC Tournament, and I honestly wouldn't be shocked to see them make a run at the Championship. They have the ability to do so. The winner of this game could be a sleeper, especially because Florida is on the other side of the bracket, and Kentucky has been very vulnerable as of late (not to mention LSU beat them at home and both teams almost beat the Wildcats in Lexington).
Anyway, from last time:
Stringer (11.9 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.1 SPG) has continued to play at a high level, and his numbers are still pretty similar across the board.
Hickey (9.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.9 SPG) has seen his shooting numbers go up, but he is still dreadful from the free throw line (57.5%). He has to improve in that regard, but his 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and ability to steal the ball are what makes him such a special player for LSU.
Morgan (4.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.8 SPG) suffered a torn patellar tendon and is out for the year, making LSU's already thin bench even lighter.
Because of Morgan's injury, Quarterman (2.2 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.7 SPG) has seen his minutes increase significantly. He is dreadful offensively (24.2% FG%, 17.5% 3P%, 51.9% FT%), but he is a good defensive player.
Junior F John Odo (1.2 PPG, 1.6 RPG) and Sophomore F Shane Hammink (0.8 PPG, 1.1 RPG) have also seen their roles increase slightly, as they have had to pick up minutes in the backcourt for LSU. Neither player makes much of an impact, however.
LSU's bread and butter remains the big trio of O'Bryant (15.5 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.9 BPG), Mickey (13.1 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.7 SPG, 3.2 BPG), and Martin (10.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG). O'Bryant was just named a 1st team All-SEC player, Mickey was named to the 2nd team All-SEC, SEC All-Freshmen team, and SEC All-Defensive team, and Martin was named to the SEC All-Freshmen team as well. A lot of accolades for this group, and it is well deserved.
Coleman (8.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.4 SPG) has continued to play solid minutes and provides serious depth down low.
Three Keys to Victory
Key #1 is a must here, Alabama needs to force LSU's hand on offense. With Nick Jacobs no longer around, Alabama can't hang with LSU in the post. The Tide will need to force LSU into uncomfortable positions. Trapping and doubling should be enforced quite a bit as Grant will surely want to pressure these guys into turning it over. Key #2 is absolutely necessary, and actually overlaps with Key #1 quite a bit. No more Jacobs = no more offense in the post. Alabama needs to get everyone involved in close range opportunities like they did against Arkansas, but they need to make sure that the looks are there and not just force it. Which leads me to Key #3, the Tide needs to be efficient. Take good shots, slow things down if nothing is there on the fastbreak, and please don't force entry passes in the post. LSU will eat that up all day. Let's try and get LSU's starters in some foul trouble too, that will force their bench players into larger roles than they are familiar with.
The beautiful thing about college basketball is that no matter how disappointing a team's season may be, it can always turn around with one week of good play in March. Let's face it, it's been a tough year for Alabama basketball and there is no chance of seeing this season continue without a Championship on Sunday. However unlikely that may seem, remember that Alabama has been competitive in nearly every game this year, and we have one of the all-time greats leading us in Trevor Releford. Alabama has beaten LSU before, hung with Kentucky on the road just last week, and can definitely beat either Georgia, Ole Miss, or Vandy in a potential SEC semifinal.
With that being said, Alabama could easily lose Thursday night as well. This team has played without much of an identity all year, and has yet to win a game away from home all season. But I saw with my own eyes the 2008 Georgia Bulldogs win 4 straight games and win the SEC Tournament; Alabama can do it too. Regardless, there is a good chance this will be Trevor Releford's last game wearing the Crimson and White, so tune in and watch SEC TV at 6:00 pm CST.
Hopefully I will be writing a preview for Kentucky following the game.