When Mark Gottfried was the coach here at the Capstone, one of the more puzzling things about his tenure was that Alabama would show up and play really good basketball against some of the better teams they would face, but then turn around and play really poorly against inferior competition. That's why Alabama found a way to beat 2nd seeded Stanford and 3rd seeded (and defending national champion) Syracuse in consecutive rounds of the NCAA Tournament as major under-dogs, and then get bounced by Wisconsin-Milwaukee the following year as a huge favorite. That trend has continued for Gottfried at NC State, where the Wolfpack claim both a win over Duke and a loss to Wake Forest on the resume this season, for instance.
Alabama fans know how frustrating it can be for a team to play so inconsistently. Well, LSU fans can certainly relate to that feeling right now. The Tigers (16-6, 5-4 SEC) have one of the most talented rosters in the SEC, and a front court duo that rivals some of the best in the entire country. They are capable of beating teams like West Virginia and Ole Miss on the road. It boggles the mind, then, when one looks at the schedule and sees losses to teams like Missouri, Mississippi State, and Auburn. Considering two of those losses are in the last two games, things seem to be going down-hill fast. Which LSU will show up when Alabama comes to town?
The Starting Five
- PG Josh Gray (9.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.4 SPG)
- SG Keith Hornsby (12. PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.4 SPG)
- SF Jerell Martin (16.0 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.8 BPG)
- PF Jordan Mickey (16.4 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.0 SPG, 3.6 BPG)
- C Darcy Malone (1.5 PPG, 1.2 RPG)
Martin and Mickey, goodness gracious, what can you say? Even on the nights when LSU has played really poorly these two still brought it. Martin is the better shooter (47.6% FG%, 30.0% 3P%, 73.5% FT%), as he takes more jump shots and has the ability to hit the three-ball, and he handles the ball a bit better as well. Mickey, however, is just an absolute monster in the post. A sure-fire first round pick in the coming NBA Draft, Mickey's numbers speak for themselves. To go along with his double-double average, he also swats three and a half shots a game and has a defensive rating of 87.4. He isn't a great shooter (66.3% FT%, 11.1% 3P%), but he is a force when he has the ball inside (53.6% 2P%). These two are as reliable as they come, and LSU doesn't try to hide what their game-plan is: get Mickey and Martin the ball. Malone is a starter by name, but he only averages about 10 MPG. Coach Johnny Jones likes to throw Malone's 7'0 frame in the middle to go along with Martin's 6'10 and Mickey's 6'8,
definitely probably in hopes of scaring the opposing team from coming out on the court.
In the back court, LSU has had to rely on two transfers to run the show. Gray's APG is slightly misleading, because he also turns the ball over three and a half times a game as well. He doesn't shoot nearly as well as one would like the point guard to be able to do (42.1% FG%, 30.1% 3P%), especially from the foul line (61.9%). However, he's a talented player, and when he is playing well, LSU is really tough to beat. Hornsby is the lone deep threat in the starting line-up (38.0% 3P%), and he's a good shooter overall (40.0% FG%, 75.5% FT%). He and Gray are both solid when it comes to creating turnovers, and Hornsby can rebound pretty well for a 6'4 guard.
- G Jalyn Patterson (5.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.1 SPG)
- G Tim Quarterman (11.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.4 SPG)
- F Brian Bridgewater (2.3 PPG, 0.9 RPG)
- F Aaron Epps (1.3 PPG, 1.7 RPG)
- F John Odo (1.3 PPG, 1.2 RPG)
If there is a single major weakness to LSU's game, it's definitely the lack of production from the bench. Freshman guard Jalyn Patterson is going to be a very good player for LSU, but he's still getting used to the large amount of minutes he is having to play in the physical SEC. He is LSU's only other threat from deep (37.5% 3P%), and he can score from multiple areas of the court (42.0% FG%, 72.7% FT%). Quaterman has been one of the best stories in the SEC this season, elevating his play from a role player who didn't make much of an impact last season, to one of LSU's most productive and important players. He's actually fourth on the team in MPG, as he shoots pretty well (43.6% FG%, 77.5% FT%), rebounds at a good clip, and plays solid defense (94.8 DRtg). The rest of LSU's bench, however, just doesn't contribute much. Guys like Bridgewater, Epps, and Odo are really just there to provide some relief for the other seven guys, play decent defense, and hit the glass for rebounds.
What to Watch For
- Trap Game? Looking at the schedule for both teams this week, this game on Saturday originally looked like it was in the perfect spot for Alabama. The quick Thursday-Saturday turn-around is difficult for any team to go through as it is, but LSU's also hosting Kentucky on Tuesday night, which means the Tigers could be caught in a look-ahead spot as well. However, with the Tigers coming off back-to-back losses to Mississippi State and Auburn, the Tide may no longer get that element of surprise in Baton Rouge.
- Ricky Tarrant's Status. As of right now there is still no real indication on whether or not Tarrant will be ready to go on Saturday, but if he can't, that's obviously not a good thing for Alabama. Keep an eye on this situation as it gets closer to tip-off.
Three Keys to Victory
- Keep it Competitive on the Glass. LSU is 8th in the country with over 40 RPG. With guys like Martin and Mickey, this is no surprise. Alabama hasn't been very good at rebounding all year; however, the Tide has been able to out-rebound their last four opponents in a row. There are obviously some signs of improvement along that front. Extending that streak will be no easy task against the Bayou Bengals, though. In fact, thinking that it might happen is probably pretty delusional. However, if Alabama can at least not get dominated on the boards, they will have taken away one of LSU's primary advantages in this game.
- Be Efficient with Possessions. The Tigers are not only really good at corralling missed shots, they are also extremely good at preventing them from ever having a chance. LSU is 8th in the country in blocks per game, and 32nd in steals per game. The length of this team makes it extremely difficult to get looks at the basket. However, LSU still finds a way to give up a decent amount of points (68.0 PPG), and they just gave up 81 points at home against Auburn. The reason why is because LSU is not very well coached on the defensive end of the court. If their opponent is careful with the ball, doesn't make bad passes, and takes mostly good shots, LSU gets into trouble defensively. Because they are so aggressive, they are prone to fouling a lot, ranking 338th(!) in player fouls this season. Teams get to the free throw line against LSU, and it has hurt the Tigers in a lot of games this season. Also, because of the lack of production from the bench, player fouls really can get LSU into a tight spot, and quickly.
- Turn Them Over. LSU's other major weakness is how careless they are with the basketball. Gray, Martin, and Mickey all turn the ball over 3 or more times a game. That's about 9-10 turnovers per game from three players. The rest of the team isn't much better, either (Hornsby: 1.6 TOPG, Quarterman: 2.6 TOPG). Alabama is only solid at forcing turnovers this season, but the Tide can play defense as well as anybody in the conference. If there is one thing you can rely on in an Alabama game, it's that Anthony Grant's guys are going to muck it up. LSU doesn't respond well to that style of play, it's one of the major reasons why Missouri and Mississippi State both beat them. If Alabama can get a strong margin in turnovers, this could go well for the good guys.
Alabama has a few more chances to try and get back in the NCAA Tournament picture, and the game in Baton Rouge is one of them. Despite the recent losing streak to terrible teams, LSU is still a RPI Top 50 opponent. With UCLA moving back into that range after a win over Stanford Thursday night, Alabama now has a pair of top 50 wins (Texas A&M). A third one, especially on the road, would give Alabama some serious momentum heading into a three game stretch where the Tide will be favored in each.
The game is set to tip on Saturday at 5:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN2.