At this point just one week ago, the Crimson Tide were prepping for a stretch that, while unlikely, could possibly catapult the team into the NCAA Tournament conversation. If Alabama could knock off one of either Texas A&M or Florida, Tide fans could actually make a legitimate argument that playing on the biggest stage in March was feasible. Most 'Bama fans kept themselves reserved, not wanting to get their hopes up for a seemingly eventual let-down. The realistic goal for the season was (and really, still is) the NIT. Next season would be the year Alabama started competing at a high level again.
Well, Avery Johnson and company decided that patience isn't really their thing. Now, after back-to-back wins over the Aggies and Gators, both likely tournament teams, the Tide is rolling and the team is looking to solidify their tournament bid by continuing their hot streak. Alabama hadn't won a road conference game until two weeks ago, but they will be seeking their third straight away victory as they arrive in Baton Rouge Wednesday night to take on the SEC co-leading LSU Tigers (16-9, 9-3 SEC).
The Last Meeting
Three Keys to Victory
The first meeting between Alabama and LSU was a great back-and-forth battle in Tuscaloosa. Alabama had a late run to end the first half with a five-point lead, but LSU's superior talent and size eventually won the day, as the Tigers squeaked out a 72-70 win. Since that game, Alabama has won five out of the last six games, and the team has built an incredible amount of confidence and belief in themselves that might have been lacking a bit in the first match-up.
The Tide did decently well in all three keys, but not well enough to win the game, obviously. Simmons didn't completely dominate, but his 23 points on 9/15 shooting was deadly and efficient. He also collected 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Alabama will need to do a better job of taking away at least one area of his game. As good as Simmons was though, LSU won this game because they got the ball to the rim better than Alabama did. As stated above, there is plenty of room for Alabama to get to the basket against LSU's defense. South Carolina, hardly an offensive juggernaut, went to the paint over and over last week against LSU, which led to them dropping 94 points on 48.4% shooting. Alabama settled for far too many jump shots, especially from the perimeter. Shannon Hale and Justin Coleman in particular hurt the Tide's offense in Tuscaloosa. Two of the best on the team at attacking the basket, the duo went a combined 3/16, settling for 12 combined three-point attempts, of which they hit only two.
Despite Alabama blocking seven total shots, four of which came from the recently-awakened giant Jimmie Taylor, LSU still had their way in the paint. Antonio Blakeney, who had been struggling from the field all season prior that game, found a lot of success driving to the basket, as he finished 5/6 from inside of the perimeter. Simmons and guard Tim Quarterman also found plenty of space taking it to the rim, as the Tide's perimeter defense seemed to get beat a number of times.
What to Watch For This Time
Despite some areas that clearly cost the Tide, including getting out-rebounded 39-34, Alabama very nearly started their NCAA Tournament run that Saturday in Coleman Coliseum. Coach Avery's group performed admirably, and some well-timed three-pointers from Retin Obasohan, Riley Norris, and Arthur Edwards (who went a combined 8/12 from deep), gave the Tide an opportunity to come out on top with a huge win. Alabama probably won't be able to count on three guys to combine for 24 points on 75% shooting from beyond the arc again this Wednesday, so they will need to focus on improving in a few other areas. Containing Simmons would be a good place to start.
As a point forward, Simmons is going to have the ball in his hands a ton; he is a very versatile player. It's not an easy task, but someone needs to be able to force him into taking jump shots by stopping his dribble-penetration and making him pick up his dribble. Hale has the best combination of size and athleticism, but look for Coach Avery to try some different looks. Don't be surprised if Alabama uses a smaller, quicker guard on Simmons when he is on the perimeter or in transition, with Hale or another big cheating over to help in case Simmons uses his length to body past the guard. Also, if Simmons is going to play out on the wing a bunch, someone needs to find him when the shots go up and prevent him from grabbing any offensive boards. It's inexcusable to allow anyone who is playing out away from the basket to grab an offensive rebound, something Alabama allowed Florida to do way too often on Saturday.
Rebounding in general could be an issue for Alabama in Baton Rouge, so look for the Tide to pack the paint. Not only will this help get more bodies in crimson jerseys around the basket for boards, it will also hopefully clog up lanes on defense and force LSU into more jump shots. Again, it must be stressed that Keith Hornsby has the only consistent jump shot on the team. Find him, force him to pass, and let someone else try to buy a basket from at least 15 feet out.
Alabama had arguably the most successful week in years this past week, firmly entrenching themselves on the NCAA Tournament bubble. In order to move comfortably into the field, the Tide need to keep the momentum rolling. With six games left, a 4-2 record likely grants Alabama an at-large bid, regardless of whatever happens in Nashville. With a road game remaining at Kentucky, who is starting to really put it together, every other game on the schedule will be crucial. LSU is an overtly talented team, but they aren't well-coached. Alabama has an opportunity to land yet another big, unlikely road win. The Tide didn't play all that well in Tuscaloosa and nearly clipped the Bayou Bengals then; they will have a decent chance at getting it right this time.
The game will tip-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.