Well, you can’t win them all (unless you’re talking about Tide football), and it was only a matter of time before the beat-up Crimson Tide (14-4, 9-0 SEC, NET: 9, Kenpom: 8) played poorly enough for a quality team like Oklahoma to get the better of them. The good news is that a loss on the road against a team that strong won’t have any real impact on the Tide’s NCAA Tournament resume. In fact, Bracket Matrix still projects Alabama to be a 2-seed in the Big Dance. So, no harm, no foul in that regard.
Still, Alabama’s issues on offense are starting to become a bit of a trend now. The Tide played well enough on the defensive end to take care of business at home against Mississippi State and the worst Kentucky team in over a decade, but when up against a legitimate NCAA Tournament team, the lack of offense doomed Nate Oats’ guys. Part of it is injury-related - Jordan Bruner remains side-lined, James Rojas hasn’t been able to play a significant number of minutes lately due to his recent illness, and Herbert Jones is beat-to-hell right now. Missing that many guys with size and an interior presence is really hurting a Tide team that already lacks numbers and quality in the front-court.
But, that doesn’t excuse the turnovers and missed shots from the back-court. The Tide’s guards have seriously regressed in the last few games, and Jahvon Quinerly is playing like his December self again, trying to iso on every other possession, even though opponents are starting to clog the lanes to counter Oats’ drive-and-kick heavy offense. When Quinerly doesn’t play well, it really hurts Alabama. The Tide simply doesn’t have another point guard. Additionally, the missed lay-ups are really starting to add up. We all knew the scorching-hot shooting wouldn’t continue for the remainder of the season, but the point-blank misses at the rim are unacceptable.
Now, the sky isn’t falling or anything like that. The defensive effort has been stellar, and that’s honestly the most important thing in basketball. The shots aren’t always going to be there, but if Alabama had just done a better job taking care of the basketball the other day, we’d be talking about an ongoing win streak instead of starting a new one. The Tide will attempt to do so in a rematch with the LSU Tigers (11-5, 6-3 SEC, NET: 41, Kenpom: 39) tonight.
From Last Time
Three Keys to Victory
Limit One of the Big Four. I’ll throw Days in with Watford, Smart, and Thomas here, he’s earned it. Together, these four account for 69.1 of LSU’s 86.1 PPG, not even taking into account assists. In essence, they are the LSU offense. Which is pretty remarkable, really, considering LSU is 5th in the country in Offensive Efficiency. In a game where defensive stops are going to be at a premium, if Alabama can successfully shut-down one of these four players (what’s up, Herb?), it will be difficult for LSU to keep up in this track meet.
Offensive Movement. And it’s going to be a track-meet, because LSU doesn’t play a lick of defense. Kenpom has them rated 107th in Defensive Efficiency, which is really bad for a team with this much talent. They don’t do much of anything right on the defensive end. They check-up one-on-one pretty decently, but the moment they have to rotate, it’s an open look at the basket. Alabama doesn’t need to get caught up on isolations (but even if the Tide does, I’m having a hard time seeing anyone staying in front of Quinerly). Bigs have absolutely gashed LSU all year because Watford isn’t really a post player, he’s just a big wing. Unfortunately, Alabama lost its only true center. But the rim is unprotected quite a bit with this LSU team. They don’t communicate well on pick-and-rolls or off-ball screens, and they give up a lot of second chance points.
Keep up the Pace. As Erik alluded to in his article earlier, teams that try to run with Alabama aren’t too successful at doing so. LSU likes to play with some pace, so it seems unlikely that they will be making this a slow, half-court game. The Tide needs to coax LSU into an up-tempo shootout, because a team that’s already bad at communicating on defense really gets pressed in track meets. Bonus points for forcing lazy defense to turn into fouls on the Big Four.
Check out this link to read the full Breakdown for the last meeting
Woo boy, last time out against LSU was a sight to see. I wasn’t kidding about LSU’s lack of defense. To be fair to the Tigers though, I’m not sure anyone was stopping Alabama that night. The Tide set an SEC record with 24 made three-pointers, led by John Petty’s 8/10 line from downtown, and ‘Bama rolled LSU 105-75, a score that was probably closer than the game actually was. Nate Oats started emptying the bench as soon as the game got inside ten minutes to go. The Tide out-rebounded LSU, forced them into 12 turnovers, and absolutely ran them out of the gym.
It was Oats’ pièce de résistance in his early tenure at the Capstone. Alabama was so dominant, only the likes of Gonzaga or Baylor could have competed with the Tide that night.
Inspiring, What About Tonight?
Hopefully, the team just plays like they did last time. Easy, right? In all seriousness, the same keys to the game will be relevant again today. Probably more so, considering Alabama likely won’t break its own conference record for threes again. Defensively, Darius Days will be out tonight with an ankle injury, which will make the Tide’s job much easier. Instead of the Big Four on offense for LSU, it will only be three: Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford, and Cam Thomas. It should also help cure the Tide’s largest ailment: giving up offensive rebounds. Days is the best offensive rebounder on the team (11.7% OREB%).
Tempo is going to be interesting to monitor tonight. On one hand, the Tide’s recent slower pace of play is part of the reason for the offensive issues, as the team is losing a bit of their rhythm and giving up the advantage they typically have. However, with as many banged-up and worn-out guys as Alabama has out there, it may be counter-productive trying to maintain that pace of play. Herb Jones was not his usual self the other day against Oklahoma, and I really think the guy needs to rest, but Oats has been pretty adamant about Herb continuing to fight through his pain. I think Oats is really going to have to make some concessions either on the pace or on the number of minutes certain guys are being asked to play. By the time February arrived last season, you could tell Alabama was exhausted. Granted, the depth was much thinner a year ago, but it remains a tale of caution.
Regardless of who is playing, the lane is going to be open for easy looks at the basket. Alabama needs to finish better at the rim. Keep up the effort on the defense, focus on stopping the Big Three, rebound the ball better on the defensive end, take care of the basketball, and get back on track in SEC play.
A win tonight would put Alabama at 10-0 in the SEC, the second best start to conference play in school history, behind only the “Rocket Eight” who went a perfect 14-0 in 1956. It would also put the Tide only a few wins away from clinching at least a share of the SEC regular season title, something it hasn’t won since 2002. As we enter the cursed month of February, a month where many recent Tide teams have gone to die, Nate Oats will be looking to do the exact opposite as he tries to gear his team up for a run in March.
Can the Tide get right quickly and get back on track?
The game tips-off at 6:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.