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Bama Basketball Breakdown: LSU

Alabama looks to keep it rolling in SEC play as LSU comes to town

NCAA Basketball: Winthrop at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

What more can be said about this Tide Hoops team? Fresh off of a rare road win in Bud Walton Arena against the 15th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks, the #4 Alabama Crimson Tide (14-2, 4-0 SEC; Kenpom: 5; T-Rank: 7; NET: 6) are now firmly entrenched as a leading contender - not just for the SEC title - but for the big prize in April. Bracket Matrix, a website that aggregates dozens of projected NCAA Tournament brackets, now has the Tide listed as a one-seed, moving just ahead of (coincidentally) one of the only teams to beat Alabama this season, UConn. If Alabama can pull that off, it will be the first time in the long history of the program that the Tide received a top-seed in the Big Dance.

What Nate Oats has accomplished in just four seasons in Tuscaloosa is nothing short of amazing. Greg Byrne and the University’s Athletic Department should be doing whatever they can to keep him happy at the Capstone. Seriously, if you don’t read anything else this week, take a minute to dive into Erik’s open letter to the AD.

Anyway, Oats and company’s next target is the LSU Tigers (12-4, 1-3 SEC; Kenpom: 89; T-Rank: 97; NET: 100). After playing absolutely no one worth anything in non-conference play -with the exception of a Kansas State team that beat them - LSU looked to have things cooking under new head coach Matt McMahon. As it turns out, McMahon’s Bengal Tigers aren’t quite as strong as the best teams money could buy that Will Wade used to roll into Tuscaloosa with. After upsetting Arkansas in the league opener, LSU has since lost three straight, including a pair of double-digit losses to NIT-level competition in Texas A&M and Florida.

There is talent on this team though. And they play with a lot more cohesion than Will Wade’s group of well-funded bounty hunters. This match-up today may not have as much juice without the pear-shaped pimp stalking LSU’s sidelines, but Alabama shouldn’t take the Tigers lightly.

The Roster

Starting Five

POINT 6’0 Justice Hill (7.2 PPG, 3.7 APG, 2.0 RPG, 99.9 DRtg)

GUARD 6’2 Trae Hannibal (6.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 95.0 DRtg)

GUARD 6’3 Adam Miller (13.0 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 103.8 DRtg)

POST 6’9 Derek Fountain (7.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 91.3 DRtg)

POST 6’10 K.J. Williams (18.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.1 APG, 94.2 DRtg)

Off the Bench

GUARD 6’3 Cam Hayes (8.7 PPG, 2.0 APG, 2.0 RPG, 99.8 DRtg)

GUARD 6’3 Justice Williams (3.1 PPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 RPG, 101.2 DRtg)

WING 6’5 Mwani Wilkinson (2.6 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 1.0 APG, 97.5 DRtg)

POST 6’8 Kendal Coleman (2.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 91.7 DRtg)

POST 6’10 Jalen Reed (2.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 97.7 DRtg)

When Will Wade was let go from LSU, his team of mercenaries predictably followed suit. Only Mwani Wilkinson and Adam Miller - who himself had just transferred in from Illinois - remain from last season’s roster. So, McMahon, who was hired from Murray State after their NCAA Tournament appearance last season, brought half of his team with him.

Justice Hill and Trae Hannibal - formerly of South Carolina, as well - were two of the main guards for the Racers and their 31-win team last year. Neither are much in the way of scorers (Hill: 30.9%/27.9%/51.9%; Hannibal: 42.5%/33.3%/66.0%), and their defense is nothing to write home about, but they are both experienced winners with a good grasp on how to run the offense (Hill: 25.7% AST%; Hannibal: 26.1% AST%). The aforementioned Miller joins them in the starting backcourt, and he does most of the scoring among the guards (36.2%/32.3%/82.9% on 11.5 FGA per game).

In the post, Derek Fountain - formerly of Mississippi State - joins the final Murray State transfer, K.J. Williams. Williams has been the bright spot of LSU’s season thus far, as he’s working on an All-SEC bid as the conference’s second leading scorer (53.5%/44.1%/82.6%). He’s also, unsurprisingly, a strong rebounder (14.0%) and a decent defender. Fountain is a stretch-big who can really shoot it (66.2%/50.0%/75.0%), though he is quite choosy in his shot attempts.

NC State transfer, Cam Hayes, has been the scoring sixth man for LSU (50.6%/39.5%/80.8%). The “veteran Tiger” Wilkinson has a nice jumper (40.7%/44.4%/50.0%). Kendal Coleman and Jalen Reed provide nice depth in the post. Reed can step out and shoot it (36.8%/50.0%/52.0%) and Coleman is the team’s best rebounder (17.1%) and shot blocker (7.3% BLK%).

Three Keys to Victory

  1. The Three-Point Line. LSU is an aggressively average team, but the one area where they can make an impact is on the perimeter. The guards are nothing special in this regard, but McMahon has LSU’s bigs run pick-and-pops all game long with Fountain, Reed, and especially Williams. That may work on smaller, lesser teams, but Alabama is 10th in the country in 3P% allowed for a reason. With the Tide’s combination of size and quickness, it’s tough to get off uncontested shots from deep. LSU themselves is actually ahead of Alabama at 9th in the nation in 3P% allowed. So, if either team can get going from long-range, that will be a key differentiator in the game.
  2. Rebounding. LSU is not exactly a bunch of bullies on the boards, but Alabama’s kind of lost their way a little bit in this area during conference play. The Tide ranks 12th in OREB% in the SEC since conference play began, and 9th in OREB% allowed. It would be nice to see Alabama get back to their dominating ways on the glass today.
  3. Keep Feeding the Hot Hand(s). It’s honestly kind of wild how many dudes Alabama has this season. Against the Hogs on Wednesday, Brandon Miller had a pretty quiet day, as Devo Davis did a fantastic job taking him out of the game. So instead, Mark Sears (26 points) and Noah Clowney (15 points) carried the weight most of the night, until Miller decided he was done playing with the Razorbacks and put them to sleep with a pair of pull-up treys just before the under-four timeout to seal the deal. This team is something else.

It may not be a classic battle of future pros like we’ve been used to seeing the last few years when Will Wade and Nate Oats would get together, but today’s sell-out crowd should still get to witness some high-quality basketball being played. As mentioned, LSU is about as average as they come outside of K.J. Williams, but they are a competent, well-coached group that plays hard. They won’t back down just because Alabama is top-four in the country.

In that respect, this is another maturity test today. Thing is, I really don’t think that’s a concern at all with this Tide Hoops team. They are a group of dogs and killers. Alabama is listed as a 15-point favorite this afternoon, which is really incredible to think about. Enjoy this special group while they last, folks. The game will tip-off at 3:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPN.