With only four weeks left until Selection Sunday, the Alabama Crimson Tide (13-11, 5-6 SEC, NET: 39, Kenpom: 48) officially has its back up against the wall in regards to its NCAA Tournament chances. The near-unanimous feeling among bracketologists is that the Tide sit comfortably outside of the projected field; most see Alabama as being a seed line or two back. The reason is obvious: with a record barely above .500, Alabama simply doesn’t have enough wins to make the Big Dance. The advanced metrics are all there for the Tide, thus why Alabama is even being considered at all with 11 losses before Valentine’s Day. But Nate Oats’ team has to finish the season strong if they want to accomplish his stated goal of being an NCAA Tournament team in Year One.
Enter the LSU Tigers (18-6, 9-2 SEC, NET: 27, Kenpom: 34). who started Alabama’s recent slide with a 90-76 waxing and an injury to Herbert Jones in Baton Rouge a few weeks back. LSU’s been on a bit of a slump themselves, having loss consecutive games (including giving Vanderbilt their first conference win in two years) before coming from behind to beat lowly Missouri at home earlier this week. Still, without question, this is Alabama’s best opportunity to make some noise with a signature victory before the SEC Tournament.
Nineteen is looking like the number of wins Alabama needs to achieve if the Tide wants to return to the big stage in March. At 13-11 with seven games left, Alabama needs to go 5-2 and grab a ‘W’ in Nashville to reach that mark. It sure would be nice to go ahead and snag one of those wins this afternoon. Especially since it would give the Tide only their second Q1 win of the season. Their current 1-5 mark in such games is part of the reason the Selection Committee would relegate the Tide to the far-too-familiar NIT.
From Last Time
Three Keys to Victory
Hang Around on the Glass. Alabama is one of the few teams in the country that can match the Tigers’ across-the-board size, with Kira Lewis (6’3), John Petty (6’5), Herbert Jones (6’7), Alex Reese (6’9) and one of Javian Davis (6’9) or Galin Smith (6’9) on the floor. Matching LSU in rebounds and preventing the Tigers from getting easy looks at and around the basket are going to be absolutely critical in this game.
Deny Dribble-Penetration and Force Jumpers. A winning formula for LSU typically follows a path where they straight-up bully teams with dribble-penetration and pick-and-roll them to death. They are not a very good shooting team, though. Outside of Mays, nobody on the roster consistently knocks down jump-shots. Alabama has to deny any kind of penetration into the painted area if they want to win this game tonight. If the Tide can coax LSU into turning this into a quick-paced shooting contest, that will greatly benefit Alabama.
Fouls. Fouls are going to be huge in this game. For one, as bad of a shooting team as LSU is, they are really good from the free throw line (76.6%, 24th in the country). It’s another reason why the Tigers very rarely bother to settle for jump shots. Why shoot the ball from outside of the paint when you can just bully teams with your size knowing that even a foul is a huge net gain? On top of that, Alabama simply doesn’t have enough of a front-court to withstand a bevy of calls going against Jones, Davis, or Smith. Good thing those guys never foul, right? Guys?
Check out this link to read the full Breakdown for the last meeting
So, about that whole competing on the glass thing? Yeah, let’s try to do a bit better this time, guys. In the previous meeting, the Tide were out-rebounded by 18, gave up 20 second chance points, and allowed LSU to shoot 60.8% from inside the arc. It was an utter bloodbath in the painted area, as LSU just bludgeoned the Tide inside. The Tigers even got to the free throw line 20 times, which, of course, they made 19 (Alabama’s free throw defense is abysmal).
Yeah, it was a beat-down. Alabama didn’t shoot the ball well either, finishing with a 41.3% FG% and hitting only 10/38 from downtown. LSU shot poorly as well (3/16 from three-point land), but Alabama didn’t even come close to making that matter. The only reason LSU even shot 16 from beyond the arc is because they were coasting, up double-digits the whole game.
Sounds Promising, What About Today?
Clearly, Alabama has to perform a complete 180 from that terrible display in Baton Rouge. The Tide has to shoot better than they did, and force LSU to attempt to do the same. Alabama simply can’t let LSU get into the paint at will like the Tigers were able to the first time. The battle for the boards can’t be an absolute slaughter today either. Obviously, the biggest key to the latter two things I mentioned will be Herb’s health. The guy was phenomenal in limited action on Wednesday in Auburn, going +13 in only 7 minutes of action. This team needs Herb in the worst kind of way when it comes to defense and competing on the glass.
I’ll go ahead and double-down on what I predicted would be the key against Auburn as well: shooting the ever-living everything out of the ball. John Petty and Jaden Shackelford, let it fly. Maybe Kira Lewis, Alex Reese, the improving Jaylen Forbes, and/or Beetle Bolden can get in on the action as well (but please, if you are off, pass the ball, Beetle). Not only is the three-point line the ultimate equalizer for Alabama, it also gives the Tide a much better chance at tracking down long rebounds over the out-stretched arms of LSU’s massive forwards.
Again, simply put, Alabama can only afford two or three more losses, including the SEC Tournament. 5-2 in the final seven games becomes significantly more achievable if the Tide can start off the home stretch with a win over LSU. It’s also the kind of win that immediately jumps off of the page on the ole’ tournament resume. Plus, the committee likes to include teams that have proven they can beat quality opponents. It’s why the Tide ended up getting a 9-seed in 2018 despite being a few seconds away from the NIT the week before (love and miss you, Collin Sexton).
It’s put-up or shut-up time in Tuscaloosa. Can Alabama upset LSU and jump-start an NCAA Tournament push?
The game will tip-off at 3:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN2.