Alabama enters this game against the Tigers riding a three game winning streak following their four game losing streak. After consecutive close victories over Arkansas and Ole Miss, Alabama blew out rival Auburn on the road Tuesday night.
The three game winning streak has given Alabama a winning record in the SEC, and the Tide have moved up to 5th in the conference standings, but just a game behind Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, who are tied for third place in the SEC.
At this point, Alabama is still in solid shape for the NCAA Tournament and most projections have them between a 7-seed and a 9-seed at this point. Joe Lunardi of ESPN has Alabama 28th on his S-Curve.
A strong end to the season could see Alabama jump up to the 5 or 6-seed range. But right now the team has to worry about the task at hand, and the task at hand is LSU at Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The Tigers enter the game coming off of a 15-point road loss to Vanderbilt. Prior to that, LSU got a solid home win over Arkansas. LSU has been a hard team to get a read on so far this season. They may be just 3-6 in the conference, but five of their losses have come against projected NCAA Tournament teams Alabama, Florida, Mississippi State, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt. Their only other loss in conference was on the road against a solid Arkansas team.
Alabama head coach Anthony Grant announced earlier today that junior forward Tony Mitchell is still suspended, and will not play tomorrow night against LSU. There still has been no timetable for his return, but I projected that he would miss these two road games against Auburn and LSU, and would return for Alabama’s home date with Florida on Tuesday.
In the first meeting, Mitchell didn’t have a great game, but he did make an impact with a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds. With Mitchell out once again, Alabama will need other guys to step up in his absence.
Against Auburn, the Tide received big contributions off the bench from Charles Hankerson Jr. and Rodney Cooper who combined to score 20 points. Hankerson put up 14 on 5-of-9 shooting, while Cooper scored 8 points and was a perfect 3-of-3 from the field.
In the first meeting, senior forward JaMychal Green was held to 9 points and 3 rebounds, but that was when Green was still struggling with his shoulder injury. Green is coming off of a 19 point, 7 rebound performance against Auburn.
Obviously, Green’s play will be a key in the game against the Tigers. He’s being asked to do even more with Mitchell out, who is Alabama’s second leading scorer behind Green this season.
Trevor Releford was a big reason for the Tide’s success against LSU in Tuscaloosa. Releford scored 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the floor. Assuming he’ll have the same success from the field would be foolish, but obviously Releford will have a big role in this game, and expect LSU head coach Trent Johnson’s gameplan to focus on stopping Releford and Green.
LSU is led by 6-foot-10 junior center Justin Hamilton, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding. Hamilton seriously struggled against the Crimson Tide in the first meeting, putting up 12 points and 6 rebounds, but was just 3-of-12 from the floor.
After Hamilton, LSU’s next leading scorers are two young guards Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer. Hickey is a freshman who leads the team from the point. He is the team leader in assists at 3.8 per game. Stringer also starts in the backcourt and averages just under 10 points per game.
Stringer was LSU’s primary offense in the first game, putting up a team leading 13 points against the Tide. Hickey and Stringer are just 5’10 and 5’9 respectively, so the Tigers have a pretty undersized backcourt.
Rounding out the starting five are 6’6 sophomore guard Ralston Turner, and 6’7 senior forward Storm Warren.
As a team, the Tigers have seriously struggled offensively. They are 8th in the SEC in points per game, and 11th in field goal % at just 40% from the floor. They are dead last in the league in adjusted field goal percentage. To contrast that, Alabama is 5th in the league in field goal %, and 6th in adjusted field goal %.
While Alabama defeated LSU by sixteen points at Coleman Coliseum, this will be a completely different game. The Bayou Bengals are looking to avenge that loss to the Crimson Tide. Alabama’s road win over Auburn earlier in the week hopefully gave the team an added boost of confidence heading into his game at Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
We shouldn’t see as raucous of a road crowd as we saw on Tuesday night in Auburn, but it will still be a hostile environment as LSU plans a “gold out” for the game in Baton Rouge.
A win over the Tigers wouldn’t do a lot to improve Alabama’s tournament resume, but a loss to LSU, who is currently ranked 78th in RPI, would hurt Alabama’s chances of making the Big Dance.
This is a big game for the Crimson Tide as they look to win their fourth straight game heading back to Tuscaloosa to take on the 7th ranked Florida Gators on Tuesday night.
Prediction: Alabama 64, LSU 54