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Bama Basketball Breakdown: LSU

Alabama returns home to try and upset one of the most talented teams in the SEC

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

There's no way to sugar coat the loss to the Auburn Tigers on Tuesday night; it was a bad loss. However, the great thing about the regular season is that the calendar turns and another game presents a new opportunity to make something positive happen. For the Crimson Tide, that challenge will be taking on one of the most talented teams in the conference, the LSU Tigers (11-7, 4-2 SEC). Everybody knows about Ben Simmons, the 6'10 can't-miss, all-star product from Australia, but the rest of this roster has raw talent littered all over. The problem for LSU thus far this season is that talent is still, well, raw.

Johnny Jones, the Tiger head coach, has done a fantastic job of recruiting and stockpiling talent in Baton Rouge. But the on-the-court success just hasn't been there. In his fourth season, he has only made a single (one-and-done) NCAA Tournament appearance, and he's never finished better than 11-7 in conference play. If he were coaching the football team, he would have been fired in a coup by angry and overzealous boosters. Regardless, this is a good team with a very high ceiling, and Alabama will have to play much better than they did Tuesday night if they want to avoid falling to 1-5 in conference play.

The Roster

Starting Line-Up

  • PG 6'1 Josh Gray (7.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.1 SPG)
  • OG 6'0 Jalyn Patterson (5.1 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.4 SPG)
  • 3G 6'4 Keith Hornsby (13.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.1 SPG)
  • PF 6'7 Craig Victor (13.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 0.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.1 BPG)
  • C 6'10 Ben Simmons (19.4 PPG, 12.8 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.1 BPG)
Any conversation about this year's LSU squad has to begin with Simmons. He's listed as a center, but that's only because "beast" is not a technical term for a position in basketball. Seriously, go back and read that stat-line again. Not only is Simmons a dominant big man, third in the SEC in PPG and first in RPG, he's also fourth in the conference in APG and third in SPG. He's 6'10 and yet he's got nearly as many assists this year as Auburn's Kareem Canty, the point guard who torched Alabama the other night. He's a ludicrous athlete. His 19.8% RB% is one of the best in the country, and his 93.3 DRtg is by far the best on the team.

Joining Simmons in the front-court is Arizona transfer Victor, a much more traditional post player. He had to sit out the early stages of the season due to his transfer from the Wildcats, but he's added some much needed physical play in the low block. LSU was really struggling earlier in the season without a Robin to Simmons' Batman, and Victor's defense (98.1 DRtg) and ability to battle on the boards (12.6% RB%) were exactly what the Bayou Bengals lacked. He's not much of a shooter (20.0% 3P%, 48.3% FT%), so his offensive production comes strictly from around the basket.

In the back-court, LSU has a number of guards who they like to rotate in and out. They start with Gray and Patterson, who have both been very up-and-down, at the one and two positions. Gray is scoring at a 49.0% clip from the field, but his shooting could use some work, as he's just a 31.6% three-point shooter and a 63.6% free throw shooter. He does most of his damage on the dribble-drive, which he likes to utilize by either taking the ball to the rim or dishing out to his teammates. Patterson has followed in this same mold, as his three-point (29.3%) and free throw (54.5%) percentages are pretty terrible for a guard, but his 63.2% 2P% reveals that he's been extremely efficient inside of the arc. Both are average defenders, but Patterson is an awfully bad rebounder (3.2%).

Hornsby has been the key guy for LSU this season. If he's hot, the Tigers are really tough to beat. The best pure shooter on the team, Hornsby is knocking down 48.0% of his shots from the field, including a team-high 42.0% from the perimeter. He's also shooting an impressive and team-leading 86.8% from the free throw line. He's not much of a defensive presence (105.5 DRtg), and his 3.9% RB% is pretty bad, but the guy knows his role, which is to find space and knock down shots.

The Bench
  • G 6'6 Tim Quarterman (11.0 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.4 APG, 0.9 SPG)
  • G 6'4 Antonio Blakeney (9.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.7 SPG)
  • G 6'5 Brandon Sampson (5.7 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.6 SPG)
  • F 6'9 Aaron Epps (5.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG)
  • C 7'0 Darcy Malone (0.8 PPG, 0.8 RPG)
  • C 7'1 Elbert Robinson (3.2 PPG, 2.6 RPG)
Quarterman is the first man off of the bench for LSU, and he's done a really good job for Jones this season. He's honestly the second-best overall player on the roster, as his solid shooting (44.7% FG%, 34.8% 3P%), ball-handling (2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio), and decent rebounding (8.8%) make him invaluable to the Tigers. Blakeney and Sampson are two true freshmen who came into college with a ton of hype around them. Granted, their hype was nothing like Simmons, but they've also failed to meet their high expectations as well as Simmons has met his even loftier ones. They've played, well, like normal true freshmen. Both have struggled to score (Blakeney: 37.3% FG%, 30.1% 3P%; Sampson: 35.4% FG%, 30.8% 3P%), and they are not very good on the defensive end and on the glass. They both have high ceilings, and are capable of having the switch flip at any moment, but their struggles have been tough for an LSU team that was hoping to get a lot out of them.

In the post, LSU has a ton of size. That's about all you can say about their depth in the front-court, though. Epps has been solid, and his 85.7% FT% is second on the team, but he's not the kind of guy that's going to take over a game or anything. Robinson and Malone are both developing still, especially Malone, and neither gets very much playing time. Clearly, Victor's presence was sorely needed for LSU, but it's not a terrible thing to have three huge guys like this on your bench. Just don't expect any of them to play like Johnny O'Bryant, Jordan Mickey, or Jarell Martin.

What to Watch For

  • How Alabama Responds. Losing a hard-fought game on the road against your hated rivals is never an easy pill to swallow, but the circumstances surrounding that loss on Tuesday night made it especially so. How will this team react? This is a pivotal situation for Avery Johnson, as these types of situations create the kind of adversity from which character and fortitude really start to emerge, which is something that needs to be instilled early on in a coach's tenure.

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Contain Ben Simmons. Stopping Ben Simmons from making a major impact on the game is nearly impossible. However, there are ways to prevent him from totally dominating. His one weakness in his game is that he doesn't have a great jump shot. It's imperative that Alabama's bigs keep him from spending a lot of time around the rim. Double-teaming him in the post would probably be the best idea. Alabama has to force the rest of LSU's squad to beat them.
  2. Force Jump Shots. Along those same lines, the Tide have to make LSU knock down their jumpers. The Bayou Bengals are a very dangerous team when they can get up and down the floor and take it to the rim. Simmons in particular has an incredible ability to snag a defensive rebound and take it coast-to-coast. Alabama's transition defense needs to be much better than it was against Auburn the other night, as that set of Tigers got off a lot of easy shots because of the Tide's inability to get back on defense. Outside of Hornsby, LSU has struggled to consistently knock down shots, especially on the perimeter, where they are shooting only 32.3% as a team. That number increases to 53.3% inside of the arc.
  3. Attack on Offense. Jump shots have hindered the Tiger offense this season, but their lack of defense has been their true weakness. LSU ranks near the bottom of the SEC in FG allowed, FG% allowed,  and 2P% allowed. In other words, Alabama needs guys to get to the rim. LSU's inability to defend around the basket stems from their lack of strong post players, Simmons' desire to run the offense as a point forward, and LSU's insistence on flying up and down the court (they rank 25th in the country in possessions per game). Drives to the basket will be there, Alabama needs to be assertive in attacking it. Retin Obasohan certainly won't hesitate.
Alabama has a great opportunity to bounce back from their rough loss to Auburn the other night when they host the talented LSU Tigers on Saturday. The game has already been announced as a sell-out, so hopefully the home crowd will show up in full force to support Avery and his guys. LSU's clearly the more talented team, but Alabama is the better coached one, and they have the ability to add to LSU's somewhat disappointing season.

The game tips-off at 1:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.