It’s Selection Sunday 2021, and the Alabama Crimson Tide is still playing basketball. After a historic blowout win over Mississippi State and an unbelievable come-from-behind victory against the Tennessee Volunteers, the Tide rolls into the final day of the SEC Tournament looking to win its first tournament title since 1991. It would also be the program’s seventh all-time, which, believe it or not, would further extend its lead as the second-most in the SEC, behind Kentucky’s insane 31 total. Additionally, Alabama would be the first SEC team outside of Kentucky and Florida to win both the regular season and tournament championships since the Tide last did it in 1987.
Truly, this has been a legendary season for Tide Hoops. SEC Coach of the Year, Nate Oats, deserves whatever amount he desires from the Athletic Department for building this program back to the top (non-Kentucky) tier of the conference. Oh, and a new arena, obviously. No matter what happens today, Oats has shown that ‘Bama Basketball is back. This team isn’t going anywhere, any time soon.
Still, there is some work left to do in this historic season. With LSU upsetting the higher-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks, the Tide will have to beat the Bengal Tigers for a third time this year. I usually say that’s never an easy thing to do, but...well...just ask Mississippi State.
Time to Be Champions (Again)
Alabama has certainly owned Will Wade and LSU so far this season, winning their two match-ups by a combined 183-135. However, the best team Baton Rouge can buy is still loaded with talent, and absolutely can not be taken lightly just because the first two meetings went so well. The Tiger’s “Core Four” of Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford, Cam Thomas, and Darius Days is as good of a foursome as there is in college basketball. The first three were All-SEC selections, and Days is one of the best offensive rebounders in college basketball (10.7% OREB%), which he combines with a strong 40.7% 3P% to make for a tough match-up.
LSU’s offense, which is almost entirely built on these four players, is rated 6th in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s Efficiency ratings. They can absolutely fill it up when they are cooking. The defensive effort has been pretty rancid at times, but they have ratcheted the intensity up since postseason play began. Yesterday, they held the Razorbacks to just 6/26 from downtown and turned the Hogs over 16 times.
Three Keys to Being Champions
- Take Away One of the Core Four. This has been utilized beautifully in the Tide’s previous two meetings with LSU. As I mentioned, LSU’s elite offense is built entirely on their main four guys. On average, they alone are responsible for 81.4% of the Tigers points per game. Get into the head of one of them, and they become a lot less potent as a whole. In the first two meetings, the emphasis was clearly on making Watford uncomfortable, as the Pinson Valley product (by way of Mountain Brook) scored just 20 points on 24 attempts from the field. It certainly didn’t hurt that Javonte Smart assisted in the futility with an even-worse 26 points on 29 shots. If the two of them struggle like that again, expect another blowout. I wouldn’t bank on that happening, but if one of them can be locked down again, LSU’s chances of winning aren’t great.
- Knock Down Open Shots. The Tide’s offense was unbelievable against Mississippi State on Friday - just about the only thing they didn’t do well was knock down a high percentage of all the open looks they had. Against Tennessee, the off-ball movement wasn’t as creative and the sets weren’t as tight as they were the day before, but there were still a large number of open shots that Alabama couldn’t get to fall. The offense is working, and despite LSU’s recently improved effort on the defensive end of the court the past few days, there’s really no reason to believe the shots won’t be there again today. You’ve got to make them count, though.
- Value Possessions. The one area Alabama didn’t do well in the first two times out against LSU was in taking care of the ball. The Tide turned the ball over 16 and 17 times, respectively. The turnover bug reared its ugly head again yesterday against Tennessee, as the Tide had double-digit turnovers in the first half before settling down in the second. Now, a lot of those turnovers were in the form of overzealous charge calls, but that doesn’t excuse them. If Alabama can take care of the rock and keep LSU off of the offensive glass, it’ll be difficult for the Tigers to get as many stops as the Tide can, regardless of if the shots are falling or not.
Obviously, this is a massive game for Alabama basketball - its biggest in decades. A win today would put an exclamation mark on an incredible year that no potential loss in the NCAA Tournament could put a damper on. When it comes to college basketball, there are only a handful of things that you hang banners for:
- Winning the Regular Season Title
- Winning the Conference Tournament Title
- Advancing to the Second Weekend of the NCAA Tournament (Sweet Sixteen)
- Making the Final Four
- Winning the National Championship
The Tide will be hanging one banner already. Let’s make it at least two today.
The game tips-off at noon CDT and will be televised on ESPN.