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Bama Basketball Breakdown: LSU

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Alabama closes out an up and down season in Baton Rouge

Syndication: Tuscaloosa News Gary Cosby Jr. / USA TODAY NETWORK

Well, so much for all of that February momentum. If there’s anything to take away from Wednesday night’s dreadful performance against Texas A&M, it’s that, no matter what has been accomplished prior to March, it can all go down the drain in just 20 minutes of game time. That’s exactly what happened to the Alabama Crimson Tide (19-11, 9-8 SEC; NET: 25; Kenpom: 22) against the Aggies, as ‘Bama put together arguably its worst half of the entire season after halftime on Wednesday. The first half wasn’t perfect either, but, my God, that second half effort was more akin to a team that would be playing on Sad Wednesday next week, not one that is a lock for the NCAA Tournament.

It was an extremely worrisome performance - it’s hard to imagine the Tide winning another game this season playing at that level again. Still, we’ve been on this roller coaster ride long enough to know that the fellas are capable of pulling a complete 180 the next time out. They will need to if they want to beat the LSU Tigers (20-10, 8-9 SEC; NET: 17; Kenpom: 16) in Baton Rouge on Saturday. After a downturn where the Bayou Bengals lost six of seven games in January while Xavier Pinson dealt with a knee injury, Will Wade’s guys have righted the ship a bit recently.

There is a lot at stake at the PMAC tomorrow morning. A bounce-back win for the Tide will lock up the #5 seed in the SEC Tournament, and will also go a long way in trying to push Alabama back up the NCAA Tournament seed-line. A loss, on the other hand, could potentially drop the Tide to as far down as the 9th-seed next week in Tampa, depending on how the other SEC games play out on Saturday. So, this is a big game for the Tide, but it’s just as big for LSU, who also have the added motivation of trying to break a five-game losing streak to Alabama.

From Last Time

Three Keys to Victory

Take Care of the Basketball. LSU’s defense is number one in the country for a bevy of reasons, but probably the most impactful is their ability to turn their opponents over. The Tigers are 4th in the country in Defensive Turnover %. They utilize a lot of full-court presses and traps, and they really extend their long guards out on opposing ball-handlers. Alabama has been very loose with the basketball at times this season - from over-dribbling to lazy passes - you name it. That will not fly tonight. LSU’s offense operates best when they are in transition - they aren’t the best in the half-court. Alabama cannot afford to turn the ball over and bail out LSU’s 104th-ranked offense (it’s bizarro-LSU, I know).

Three-Pointers. I mentioned this against Mississippi State as well, but Alabama’s lack of size and ability to clear the glass and hold up on the interior almost necessitates that shots be falling from the perimeter this season. This is Alabama’s advantage. So, when they are shooting 27.2% from the arc - as the Tide has done since SEC play started - there are going to be losses. The crazy thing is that, despite all of its faults, if Alabama was shooting even just, say ~33% from three in conference play, the Tide would probably be 4-1 instead of 2-3. Jahvon Quinerly shot 43.3% from three last season - he’s at 24.7% this year. Jaden Shackelford is shooting 25.6% during the SEC slate, after shooting over 40% in non-conference play. These guys have to hit open treys. The good news is that they are absolutely due for some regression. We know they are capable of it. Noah Gurley was a career 34.4% three-point shooter at Furman. Granted, there has been an obvious step-up in defenses at Alabama, but he’s mostly taking open shots, and he’s only hitting 28.9% of them. The Tide is due.

Get that James Rojas Energy Going. Nate Oats stunned everybody when James Rojas checked into the game against Mississippi State this past Saturday. And he made a difference. Watch that guy play without the ball in his hand. Sure, he lacks polish, but Alabama has desperately needed somebody to get physical, especially on the interior. Rojas was getting after it in Starkville - boxing out, clearing the glass, disrupting ball movement. That kind of energy is contagious, and I’d love to see more of that the rest of the way. Go back up and watch that highlight of the 2021 SEC Championship Game again - the fellas were getting after it. We’ve been missing that.

Check out the full Breakdown of the previous meeting here.

The last time these two got together back in January, Alabama’s backs were up against the wall, having lost three straight games. LSU had just lost Xavier Pinson to his knee injury, and then Darius Days got hurt in the first half for the Tigers as well. ‘Bama took advantage of those injuries and got up off of the matt for a huge 70-67 win over then-ranked LSU. The Tide out-rebounded the bigger, more athletic Tigers 44-36, and despite turning the ball over 17 times and shooting just 7/34 from three, Alabama was able to prevail because they played very opportunistic defense. They forced LSU into 20 turnovers, which helped them weather the storm from LSU’s rare 10/22 perimeter shooting night.

Can Alabama Sweep LSU Again?

It won’t be easy, especially if the Tide plays anything like it did against Texas A&M. If Alabama’s guards couldn’t keep anyone on A&M in front of them, there’s no telling what kind of damage LSU could inflict, especially now that Pinson is back. Speaking of which, I certainly wouldn’t expect Alabama to turn the Tigers over 20 times again, now that their point guard and primary ball-handler is back.

Additionally, Alabama just won’t take care of the basketball. The self-inflicted wounds from turnovers are killing this team. It’s dreadful to watch. Sure, A&M is 7th in the country in Opponent Turnover %, but guess who is the only team in the SEC better than the Aggies at that? The 4th-ranked LSU Tigers. The Tide has absolutely no chance at winning this game if they don’t value the basketball more. None. Zero. Even if Alabama suddenly does a good job of taking care of the ball, this will be a tough task. LSU is 16th in the country in OREB%, which we know well by now is another area where opposing teams really exploit the Tide.

However, LSU is really not very good on offense. They shoot just 32.3% from three and have an effective FG% of 49.4% - 212th in the country. They are Bizarro LSU this year, remember? So, if Alabama can actually keep guys in front of them and protect the paint, while taking care of the ball enough to knock down big shots on the other end, the Tide can absolutely win this game. They did beat Gonzaga, Baylor, Houston, Tennessee, Arkansas, and this same LSU team already this year. It just depends on which Tide team shows up. World-beating analysis, I know. But this year’s team is just such an enigma.

The game tips-off at 11:00 AM CST and will be televised on CBS. Let’s surprise everyone one more time before tournament play starts, shall we?