Alabama (13-11, 5-6; KenPom: 48; NET: 39) has battled valiantly this season, but are running out of chances for quality wins for their postseason resume. Another opportunity presents itself on Saturday when the LSU Tigers (18-6, 9-2; KenPom: 34; NET: 28; AP: 25) come to town for the second meeting of the season. LSU won the first game 90-76. Game time is 3:00 P.M. CT, and will be televised on ESPN2. As of Thursday, the university announced that there were less than 1,000 tickets remaining for the game. If not a sellout, it's going to be close to it for the biggest game of the year so far.
My Two Cents: I hate to say that any game is must-win, but this game feels like that. Alabama is 1-6 so far this season in quad one games. LSU will be a quad one opponent. In quad one/two games, our guys are just 5-10. Strong metric numbers and a strong schedule have kept Alabama in the bubble picture, but, having lost four of their last five, they have to start winning some games.
After an 8-0 start in conference play, LSU avoided a three-game losing streak on Tuesday night when they narrowly beat Missouri in Baton Rouge. LSU is the best offensive team in the league, but their effort on defense has been poor and they are currently ranked 12th in the league in defense as a result. Why was LSU the first SEC team in 26 games to lose to Vanderbilt: giving up 99 points to the league's worst offensive team had a lot to do with it. In fact, in LSU's two losses in league play - Vanderbilt and Auburn - the Tigers scored 90 points in both games, and lost. That's not supposed to happen. On Tuesday night, Missouri - the second-worst offensive team in the league - shot 51% against the Tigers. LSU has the pieces to win the league and make it to the second weekend of the tournament, but only if they start guarding somebody.
Rebounding will be the central focus yet again in this game. Auburn had their way on the glass on Wednesday night, and LSU dominated the glass in the first meeting. If Alabama can't find a way to compete on the glass in this one, they'll have no shot. Some fans grumbled about the number of three-point shots the team took at Auburn, but don't be surprised if our guys put up another high number from three in this one because the Tigers have the worst three-point defense in the league. LSU has the top defensive free throw rate in the league, but I do think that Alabama needs to generate a higher number of paint touches to force the Tigers to guard the rim. Both teams rank near the bottom of the league in defensive turnover pct so keep an eye on the points off turnovers stat on Saturday. Alabama is surprisingly tops in the league in offensive non-steal turnover pct and LSU is near the bottom defensively in both the non-steal turnover rate and defensive steal pct. In a game in which both offenses can get cooking, possessions ending with shots instead of turnovers will be of the utmost importance.
Players to Watch: Herb Jones is one tough mother - hey, watch your mouth! I'm just talking about Herb Jones! Herb returned in the Auburn game. He only played seven minutes and fouled out, but he had an impact on the game. First of all, if you put me in a game with a broken wrist, I will finish that game with zero fouls because I want no contact whatsoever. The fact that Herb was playing hard enough with basically just one arm to draw five fouls is bonkers to me. Here's the most telling stat: in seven minutes, Herb's +/- was +13. That is amazing, and further evidence of Herb's importance to this team. Despite Herb's multiple injuries this season, he still leads the team in the +/- stat. If this team has a healthy Herb all season, this is a very different season.
The duo of Emmitt Williams and Trendon Watford combined for 40 pts, 26 rebs, 4 asts, 3 stls and 1 block in the first game. Our guys have to find a way to contain the LSU interior players, particularly on the glass, or it's going to be game: blouses.
Prediction: It's a big game in February so it's hard for me to envision this not being a game that goes down to the wire, and my fingernails with it. Both teams are explosive offensively and struggle on the defensive end so I'm expecting a high-scoring, close game similar to Alabama's last two games. Our guys are 1-3 in the month of February so far, and they've got to find a way over that hump. LSU is the more talented, more physical team, and our guys are beat up. But this Alabama team continues to fight, and with a large home crowd expected on Saturday, I believe our guys can take the first step towards a more enjoyable February.
Bama - 96 LSU - 85