Stop me if you've heard this before: the Alabama Crimson Tide (16-9, 7-5 SEC) will attempt to follow up an incredible Saturday performance by taking care of business against an inferior opponent on a Tuesday night. This time around, the LSU Tigers (14-10, 5-7 SEC) will make the trip to Tuscaloosa, looking to avenge their loss to the Tide last month, a 74-66 Alabama victory in Baton Rouge. First year head coach Will Wade has done an incredible job with this team, as the Bayou Bengals still have a shot at the NCAA Tournament, albeit a very long one. That alone is an incredible accomplishment for a team that was a near-unanimous pick to finish dead last in the SEC. Freshman phenom Tremont Waters continues to put up big numbers on his way to a potential 1st Team All-SEC selection, and the Tigers have greatly improved on the defensive end of the court.
In other words, Alabama's lost to worse teams after looking like Final Four contenders, and LSU will be desperate to keep their slim hopes of an at-large bid to the big dance alive.
The Last Meeting
Three Keys to Victory
Take Care of the Basketball. Will Wade comes from the Shaka Smart school of forcing turnovers. Full court presses, playing out on guards, traps on any area of the court, etc. The players haven’t quite gotten there just yet, but they are still going to try to create havoc on defense whenever they can. Alabama has had a tenancy to get sloppy at times on offense. They can’t afford that Saturday night. Sexton needs to do his best to keep things flowing, yet controlled. That will be a tough test for a true freshman. If the Tide can make good passes and get up and down the court, LSU’s defense tends to break-down quite a bit. They give up a decent number of points in transition if their opponents take care of the ball well.
Defend the Perimeter. As mentioned earlier, LSU’s entire starting five can shoot the three-ball. That makes them very difficult to defend. They can attack the paint with guards and slide their big men out to the perimeter for open treys from the short corner, they can run pick-and-pops with anybody on the court, they can use off-ball screens to free up shooters on the wing, etc. Alabama has been especially vulnerable in three-point defense all season. LSU will eat the Tide’s lunch if Alabama doesn’t commit to contesting and preventing three-point opportunities.
Get Donta Hall Involved Early and Often. One key area Alabama will have a decisive advantage will be in the paint. Neither Epps nor Reath are strong defenders or skilled post scorers. Hall and Daniel Giddens will be critical in this match-up. Offensively, Alabama needs to attack the rim and go to the post as much as possible, especially since the possibility of getting either Epps or Reath in foul trouble forces LSU to play an especially small version of small-ball.
The good news for Alabama is that the Tide beat LSU in Baton Rouge in their previous meeting even with Hall side-lined with his wrist injury and Collin Sexton putting on arguably his worst perfomance of his young collegiate career (4/16 for 15 points and 9 turnovers). Chances are pretty good that Sexton plays at a much higher level Tuesday night, and Hall could end up putting on a monsterous performance himself. Even with Hall out and Giddens battling foul trouble, Alabama dominated LSU on the glass in Baton Rouge, out-rebounding the Tigers by 16. It could get ugly in that area on Tuesday night, unless Wade has his guys crash the glass like crazy, which would prevent them from applying his signature pressures or getting up the court quickly on missed baskets.
The Tide defended the three-point line well last time, holding LSU to 7/25 from deep, and Avery Johnson's team has only gotten better on the defensive end since. It would behoove the Tide to not allow the Tigers to take 25 shots from behind the arc again, but if most of those heaves are contested then there's not much to complain about.
What To Watch For This Time
Again, the biggest difference in this meeting with the Bayou Bengals is that, if everything else plays out similarly to the previous match-up, Hall and Sexton probably put this thing away early. But as Tide fans have learned the hard way, Alabama never makes it easy. The Tide shot an incredible 18/18 from the free throw line in Baton Rouge; they could easily go 8/18 Tuesday night, allowing LSU to hang around.
LSU has also dismissed a pair of players since the first meeting. Neither Galen Alexander nor Mayan Kiir are with the program now, although both were deep in the rotation. That does affect depth though, especially as we continue to grind through the back-half of conference play. Foul trouble could loom large for LSU in the front-court, as both players provided some depth there.
Honestly, there really just isn't a whole lot more to be said about this game. If Alabama plays anywhere close to the way they did on Saturday there is no reason the Tide shouldn't cover the 7.5 point spread Vegas has them laying. But the same thing was said the previous three weekday conference match-ups as well. It's become a meme amongst the Alabama faithful, but the Tide simply haven't been able to follow-up big-time wins over top-25 opponents by taking care of business against an inferior opponent in the following game. It defies all logic other than the oft-repeated, "well they are young", which is honestly a bit of a weak excuse 25 games into the season.
Defend the perimeter, contain the diminutive, yet electrifying, Waters, prevent Brandon Sampson from having one of those break-out games he's capable of putting on, dominate the glass, get the ball to the rim, and take care of business. That's what elite teams do. Alabama has the opportunity to become one, and with March right around the corner, now is the perfect time to do so.
The game tips-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.