Ben Simmons (Fr. 6'10, 240) has not faltered in his play since the last time Alabama played the Tigers. He remains the heavy favorite to win the SEC Player of the Year award, and will probably finish in the top 3 for the national award. In the first game, Simmons had a nice outing with 23 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. That along with four other Tiger players who scored in double figures played a big part in the LSU road win. Many believe Simmons is the best college freshman since Kevin Durant so limiting his production is a challenge. Even more difficult when his teammates are playing well.
Simmons gets most of the press but Tim Quarterman (Jr. 6'6, 190 lbs) may be the most important player on this roster. Like Simmons, he's a pro prospect, but he struggles at times with his decision making and his effort at the point guard spot. He's a match-up problem with his length, and I would have loved to have seen him match-up with Dazon Ingram (a more physical, though possibly less athletic version of Quarterman) if not for Dazon's unfortunate injury. Quarterman played well in the first game, finishing with 11 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal, and only two turnovers, and scored the winning basket to top it all off. While the coaches have to game plan for Simmons, I really believe forcing Quarterman into a bad game is the key here. Unfortunately, this LSU team is so deep it really is a game of "pick your poison". Even if Alabama can limit Quarterman, and even Simmons, there's still Keith Hornsby (13.6 ppg, 41% from 3), Craig Victor (12.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and Antonio Blakeney (10.9 ppg) to deal with. All three of those guys had solid games in Tuscaloosa. And the LSU bench has a number of guys who would likely start at many D-1 schools. I don't envy the coaches having to prepare a game plan to defend this bunch.
This is an improved and far more confident Alabama team that strolls into Baton Rouge than the team that LSU defeated the first time around. And even then the Tigers were fortunate to get out of Tuscaloosa with the win. Unless Alabama comes out flat following an extended period of competitive games, the Tigers can expect another fist fight from the men in crimson. Our guys believe they can win games now, and that makes them dangerous. LSU has played steady basketball during league play, but are still prone at times to the unorganized play, particularly on defense, that hurt them in November and December. This LSU team is efficient on offense (top 30 at KenPom) so Alabama must shoot the ball well themselves, and cannot allow a repeat performance on the boards like they had in Gainesville on Saturday (Florida was +19 on the boards; 23 of them were offensive). Giving a team with this kind of offensive firepower 2nd and 3rd chances is not likely to go well for Alabama. The win in Gainesville takes a little pressure off Alabama in this one, but another big road win would make yet another loud statement that this Alabama team isn't satisfied with merely going up the mountain, but over it as well.