Well, too bad for all that February momentum. If there’s anything to take away from Wednesday night’s terrible performance against Texas A&M, it’s that no matter what was accomplished before March, it can all come crashing down in just 20 minutes of playing time. is exactly what happened to the Alabama Crimson Tide (19-11, 9-8 SEC; CLEAR: 25; Kenpom: 22) against the Aggies, while ‘Bama had arguably his worst half of the entire season after Wednesday’s halftime. The first half wasn’t perfect either, but, my goodness, this second half effort felt more like a team playing sad Wednesday next week, not a team that’s a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
It was an extremely worrying performance – it’s hard to imagine the Tide winning another game this season playing at this level again. Still, we’ve been on this roller coaster long enough to know the guys are capable of pulling a full 180 next time. They’ll need it if they’re 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 as Xavier Pinson struggled with a knee injury, Will Wade’s guys have righted the ship a bit recently.
There’s a lot at stake at PMAC tomorrow morning. A rebounding win for the Tide will lock in the No. 5 seed in the SEC Tournament and also go a long way to pushing Alabama back into the NCAA Tournament starting line. A loss, on the other hand, could potentially tip the tide for the 9th seed next week in Tampa, depending on how other SEC games play out on Saturday. So it’s a big game for the Tide, but it’s just as big for LSU, which also has the added motivation of trying to snap a five-game losing streak against Alabama.
Three keys to victory
Take care of basketball. LSU’s defense is number one in the nation for a host of reasons, but probably the most impactful is its ability to turn opponents around. The Tigers are 4th in the nation in defensive turnover percentage. They use a lot of presses and traps all over the court, and they really stretch their long guards on opposing ball handlers. Alabama has been very loose with basketball at times this season – from excessive dribbling to lazy passing – you name it. It won’t fly tonight. LSU’s offense works best when they’re in transition – they’re not the best in half court. Alabama can’t afford to turn the buck around and bail out LSU’s 104th-ranked offense (it’s weird-LSU, I know).
Three points. I mentioned it against Mississippi State as well, but Alabama’s lack of size and ability to clear the glass and hold inside almost necessitates shots falling from the perimeter this season. That’s Alabama’s advantage. So when they are shooting 27.2% from the arc – as the Tide has been doing since the start of the SEC game – there will be losses. The crazy thing is, for all its flaws, if Alabama were shooting even just, say, ~33% from three in the conference, the Tide would likely 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 roster, after shooting more than 40% in non-conference play. These guys have to hit open treys. The good news is that they are absolutely due to some regression. We know they can. Noah Gurley was a career 34.4 percent three-point shooter at Furman. Granted, there’s been an obvious increase in defenses at Alabama, but he’s mostly taking open shots, and he’s only hitting 28.9 percent of them. The tide is due.
Get that energy from James Rojas. Nate Oats surprised everyone when James Rojas entered the game against Mississippi State last Saturday. And he made the difference. Watch this guy play without the ball in his hand. Of course, it lacks polish, but Alabama desperately needs somebody to get physical, especially on the inside. Rojas went after Starkville – boxing, cleaning the glass, disrupting the movement of the ball. That kind of energy is contagious, and I’d love to see more of it the rest of the way. Go back and watch that highlight of the 2021 SEC Championship Game again – the guys were going after it. We missed it.
Check out the full breakdown from the previous meeting here.
The last time these two met in January, Alabama’s back was against the wall, having lost three straight games. LSU had just lost Xavier Pinson to a knee injury, and then Darius Days was also injured in the first half for the Tigers. “Bama took advantage of those injuries and got off the mat for a whopping 70-67 win over then-ranked LSU. The Tide bounced off the bigger, more athletic Tigers 44-36, and despite 17 returns and only 7/34 shooting from three, Alabama was able to win because they played a very opportunistic defense. . They forced LSU to 20 turnovers, which helped them weather the storm of LSU’s rare 10/22 perimeter shooting night.
It won’t be easy, especially if the Tide plays something like they did against Texas A&M. If the Alabama guards couldn’t keep anyone on A&M ahead of them, it’s unclear 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 now that their point guard and main ball handler are back.
Plus, Alabama just won’t deal with basketball. Self-inflicted injuries from turnovers kill this team. It’s awful to watch. Sure, A&M is 7th in the nation in opponents’ turnover percentage, but guess who’s the only SEC team better than the Aggies at that? The LSU Tigers in 4th place. The Tide has absolutely no chance of winning this game if they don’t value basketball more. Any. Zero. Even if Alabama suddenly does a good job of taking care of the ball, it will be a difficult task. LSU is 16th in the nation in OREB%, which we now know is another area where opposing teams are really riding the tide.
However, LSU really isn’t very good on offense. They’re shooting just 32.3% from three and have an effective FG% of 49.4% – 212th in the country. They’re Bizarro LSU this year, remember? So if Alabama can actually keep the guys in front of them and protect the paint, while taking care of the ball enough to knock down the big shots on the other end, the Tide can absolutely win this game. They’ve beaten Gonzaga, Baylor, Houston, Tennessee, Arkansas and that same LSU team already this year. It just depends on which Tide team shows up. Global analysis, I know. But this year’s team is such an enigma.
The match will begin at 11:00 a.m. CST and will be televised on CBS. Let’s surprise everyone one more time before the tournament starts, shall we?