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Bama Basketball Breakdown & Game Thread: LSU

Alabama finds itself in a four-way battle for the SEC, as it heads to Baton Rouge looking for a bounce-back

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Alabama Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday night certainly didn’t go the way Alabama fans were hoping it might, but honestly, that was a brutally tall task to go into a place where very few teams win and beat a damn good rival that happens to match up well with this year’s version of the Tide. I really wouldn’t spend much time thinking about it - time to flush it and move on. That’s what championship teams do, and the 16th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (16-7, 8-2 SEC; NET: 6; Kenpom: 7) is certainly still hoping to be crowned champs when this season comes to an end in a little over a month.

That got quite a bit harder after Wednesday’ result, to be sure. Alabama is now essentially in a four-way tie for first with Auburn, Tennessee, and South Carolina, as the Tide left the door wide-open with the loss. Everything is still on the table for Nate Oats’ squad, though. There were certainly a number of lessons learned from this past game. From schematic lessons like maybe double-teaming in the post against a bad shooting team when their bigs are having their way, to execution lessons like not exacerbating already struggling defensive issues by coughing up live ball turnovers left and right. Structurally, we’ve known since November that teams with good bigs who can score were going to be a nightmare for the Tide this season, but the guys have to find other ways to win. Which, to their credit, they have a lot more often than not.

There’s always room for improvement though, and the next opportunity for the Tide to work on and showcase those potential improvements is on the road against another pair of rival tigers - the LSU Tigers (12-10, 4-6 SEC; NET: 90; Kenpom: 85). These two teams met in Tuscaloosa just a couple of weeks ago, and the Tide simply outclassed the Bayou Bengals with yet another 100+ point performance against Oats’ favorite punching bag. Another win today would make Oats 9-2 against LSU since he arrived at the Capstone.

As for the Tigers, Matt McMahon’s team is reeling a bit right now. Losers of five of their last seven games, LSU is currently the clubhouse favorite to join Arkansas, Missouri, and Vanderbilt in the final installment of Sad Wednesday in Nashville. If Alabama is serious about contending for another SEC crown, the Tide has to win this one today.

From Last Time

Three Keys to Victory

Turnovers. Obviously, taking care of the basketball is something we’ve addressed in this space for Alabama numerous times now, but it’s also significant against LSU specifically because the Tigers are great at turning teams over (20.2% TO% - 41st in the country), but also cough the ball up quite a bit themselves (18.9% TO% - 265th). If Alabama can at least keep the turnover margin about equal, as the guys were able to do against Auburn, this should be a game where Alabama takes care of business on its home floor.

Physicality on the Glass. LSU is also not very good at closing out defensive possessions with a rebound, allowing opponents to get a second chance opportunity on nearly a third of their shots. Alabama has had its issues with that as well - albeit not nearly to that degree - but the Tide has remained strong on the offensive glass, currently clocking in at 33rd in the country with a 34.8% OREB%. Additionally, LSU’s bigs aren’t the soundest defenders, so Alabama should have plenty of opportunities to attack the basket, even if just to draw a foul and go to the line, which LSU gives up a lot of as well (32.4% Free Throw Rate - 179th in the county). The Tide has been elite from the free throw line this season (78.5% - 8th best in the nation) - which, as an aside, has been such a nice contrast from Tide Hoops teams of the past.

Make it Rain. Alabama has run LSU off of the court a few times now in recent years, and it’s because the three-ball has been nearly automatic for the Tide in those games. Alabama shot 20/54 from the arc in last year’s 40-point beating and set an SEC record with 23 made-threes against LSU in the 30-point blowout in Baton Rouge in 2021. This year’s LSU team is merely decent defending the arc, and the Tide is one of the best in the biz in this regard. If the perimeter shots are falling for Alabama at home, it’s hard to envision a team like LSU being able to pull out a win.

Click here for the full Breakdown from last game

Alabama had its way with the Tigers defense in the first match-up of the season - 21/29 inside of the arc, 14/34 from deep, 25/28 from the line, 23 assists to “only” 12 turnovers. It was a mauling. 11 offensive rebounds may not seem like a ton, but considering the Tide didn’t miss all that many shots, it was a very effective 11 boards. Just another ho-hum triple-digit day at the office for Nate Oats and Alabama against LSU.

Defensively, the Tide left a lot to be desired though. Granted, when you are scoring like the Tide was, it’s easy to fall into the trap of giving up easy baskets on the other end. Still, LSU shot 44.2% from the field and nearly 40% from three-point land. More troubling though, was the 14 offensive rebounds and lack of forced turnovers - the Tigers only turned it over 10 times, and a lot of them were unforced errors. I’m sure Oats would like to see some improvement on this end of the court in the rematch.

Break Out the Brooms (Part 2)

Nate Oats has made sweeping our rivals so commonplace that not beating Auburn both times this year had a lot of Tide folks trippin the past few days. Alabama has swept Auburn twice under Oats, and it’s even worse for the other two - the Tide has now swept Mississippi State three times (including a couple of years where the two teams met three times) and is looking to add LSU to that same list with a win today. I know we didn’t get to break out the brooms again earlier this week, but there shouldn’t be much dust on them since last Saturday.

In all seriousness, this is a game Alabama should and needs to win, if the Tide wants to remain contenders for the regular season crown. The schedule really ramps up after today, with six straight games against likely NCAA Tournament teams before the finale against struggling Arkansas. The Tide also remains in great standing as far as seeding in the NCAA Tournament goes, as Alabama still remains a consensus three-seed by bracketologists. Even winning just five of the last eight games would likely keep the Tide as a protected-seed in the Big Dance (a protected-seed is a top-four seed, or anyone who is guaranteed to be the “home” team the opening weekend, just an FYI).

So, there’s plenty at stake today, even if the opponent isn’t the toughest the Tide has faced all season. In fact, that makes it just as important as any other game. A loss would be pretty brutal. A loss to LSU would do the kind of damage that a lot of Alabama fans thought a loss to Auburn would do to the team’s outlook. And for that reason, the Tide will need to be sharp for the early start today.

The Tide is favored by 6.5 points. The game will tip-off at 11:00 AM CST and will be televised by ESPN.