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LSU @ Alabama: Game Preview

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The Crimson Tide basketball team will complete its three-game home stand against LSU Wednesday night in Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa. Alabama is looking for a season sweep of the Tigers after winning 66-49 earlier this month in Baton Rouge.

Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. local time and a few tickets remain on sale here. The game will be televised throughout the Southeast on the SEC Network. Check here for local affiliate listings, but in most cases it will be the same station that brought you the old JP/LF/Raycom games. For those outside the Southeast, you can watch the game online at ESPN360.com.

The Tide is attempting to claw its way back to .500 in SEC play following a big win over #23 Mississippi State at home on Saturday. Bama is now 12-7 on the season, and 2-3 in SEC play. A win over LSU would be another big boost to the Tide's season and help the team recover from a painful three-game losing streak prior to the win over MSU, in which Alabama led at the half in each game. After starting out in such a hole with the losing skid, it is imperative that the Tide find a way to win on Wednesday night against an LSU team it dominated in its SEC opener on the road.

LSU meanwhile brings an SEC-worst 0-5 league record to Coleman Coliseum to go along with a 9-10 overall season record. The Tigers are the defending SEC champions, but lost many of the key pieces from last year's squad and have surprisingly gone from first-to-worst in a year's time. After a good deal of inconsistent success over the past decade, including an SEC championship and Final Four appearance as recently as 2006, LSU fired former coach John Brady and brought in Trent Johnson from Stanford in 2008. In his first year as coach last season, Johnson led LSU to a surprise SEC championship and subsequent NCAA tournament appearance. However, last season was probably the weakest collection of SEC teams in decades and LSU lost several of its star players. Johnson was looking to rebuild this season, and things didn't look all that bad as the Tigers went 9-5 in non-conference play, with all of their losses coming to big-name teams. However, beginning with the 66-49 loss at home to fellow rebuilders Alabama, LSU has failed to come up with an SEC win in five tries, although they had second half leads in both of their last two games, against Auburn and #22 Ole Miss.

Read more about the LSU Tigers below the jump and the keys to an Alabama victory on Wednesday...

The one big bright spot for LSU this season has been the play of fifth-year senior forward Tasmin Mitchell. He was a key not only in LSU's SEC championship season last year, but also in their SEC championship and Final Four season four years ago. Mitchell is currently third in the league in scoring at 17.9 points per game and has the ability to explode for huge numbers, as he did last week against Auburn when he poured in 38 points in a losing effort. At 6'7" and 245 pounds, he can be a force inside, as evidenced by his 9.5 rebounds per game, making him the second-leading rebounder in the league. However Mitchell is a true small forward, and can be almost as dangerous outside as he is inside. He has a solid jumpshot and has made right at one 3-pointer per game this season while shooting over 35% from beyond the arc. Alabama did a decent job in holding him to only 11 points in the previous meeting and will need a big night defensively from bigger, quicker guys like Tony Mitchell and Chris Hines to keep him in check again.

The LSU frontcourt is led by sophomore forward Storm Warren. Warren is averaging a very respectable 13.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game on the season. At 6'7" 230 pounds he is virtually identical in size to Mitchell, but doesn't have the same perimeter skills that Mitchell does. Still, he has shown flashes of being a very good post player so Bama interior defenders JaMychal Green and Justin Knox will have to be physical against him. The Tigers' other starting post player is freshman center Dennis Harris. At 6'11" he is at least two inches taller than anyone on the Tide's roster, but at only 190 pounds he can be dealt with. He only averages 4.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game, but he had a season-high 12 points against Alabama earlier this month, so Bama will need to keep an eye on him. Sophomore center Garrett Green and freshman forward Eddie Ludwig provide depth for the Tigers' frontcourt.

LSU's backcourt is led by junior guard Bo Spencer, who is second on the team in scoring at 15.3 points per game. Spencer is a very talented and potentially dangerous scorer, but has been rather inconsistent this season and has let his frustrations affect his play at times. As LSU's only legitimate perimeter scorer, he shoots a lot, especially from beyond the arc. He averages about 6.5 3-point attempts each game, but is hitting less than 28% of those attempts, and only 34% of his shots overall. Still, he can get hot at a moment's notice and he certainly has the green light from coach Trent Johnson, so Alabama will need to keep tight pressure on him, preferably to the point of getting him frustrated. LSU has struggled to find another consistent guard this season. Freshman Aaron Dotson started for most of the non-conference games but has since seen his minutes decrease. Sophomore Zach Kinsley started the last game against Ole Miss but has only scored in two of the last five games. Sophomore Chris Bass started four of the last five games and leads the team in assists, but isn't a big scoring threat.

Unlike the two previous games where Alabama was facing ranked opponents, we probably don't need a great offensive performance to win this one. If our defense plays the way it did in those last two games against Tennessee and Mississippi State, or the way it did against LSU in Baton Rouge for that matter, we can probably limit LSU to the point where we don't need everything to go right on offense the way it did against MSU (meaning: big game from Torrance, big game from Green, and sinking open 3s). Nevertheless, the Tide should take nothing for granted. Alabama lost by double digits to a similarly rebuilding Arkansas team when we didn't play well and LSU nearly knocked off a ranked Ole Miss team just a few days ago before letting it slip away late in the game.

In our previous meeting at LSU, we won by forcing several turnovers in the first half and successfully getting buckets in transition. We played good defense in holding LSU to only 37% shooting, but we really didn't play all that great ourselves in the halfcourt offense. While we pressured LSU for much of the game, many of their turnovers were unforced so we may not be able to rattle them like that this time. Still, I would expect to see a lot of pressure on the LSU guards, especially Spencer. Don't be surprised if we single him out defensively the way we did MSU's Bost. Our key to winning in Baton Rouge offensively was getting out quick in transition and scoring easy buckets, which overshadowed what was an otherwise lousy offensive performance. I expect a good coach like Trent Johnson to make adjustments so that that isn't the case this time around. If he does, we'll need a better halfcourt offensive performance than we saw in Baton Rouge, but again, as long as our defense shows up it probably won't have to be a great one.

This game is a must-win for Alabama. In trying to claw our way out of a hole, we can't afford a slip at home to the league's lowest-ranked team. If we play with the same intensity that we played with in Baton Rouge and on Saturday in our win over MSU, we should be fine. If not, it could be a very bad night for us, as LSU has some dangerously good players on hand. This is one that we absolutely must have, as things only get harder from here.

Roll Tide!