LSU handed Alabama basketball a double-digit loss in January but the Crimson Tide can grab a must-win in Tuscaloosa on Saturday.
Yes, the sentence in the heading above says Alabama basketball must and can win on Saturday. The ‘must’ part is easy to see. The ‘can’ part takes some belief.
Some Alabama basketball fans ar non-believers. They cannot be faulted for such skepticism. It is February – the month in most recent years, Alabama basketball falters and fails. It may do so again this season. If it doesn’t be assured Nate Oats is the difference.
Oats is not one to sugarcoat a painful reality. On Thursday, Nate was direct.
Saturday is as big as it gets.
We’re really behind the eight ball (making the NCAA Tournament) and it will make it really, really hard if we don’t pick this one up on Saturday.
Through Thursday’s games, the NCAA NET Ranking for LSU is No. 27 and the Crimson Tide is at No. 39. Not many pickers have the Tide upsetting LSU. Without going into details available through a subscription to Ken Pomeroy’s treasure of data, his numbers justify some optimism for a Tide victory. Teamrankings.com gives Alabama basketball a 55.6 percent chance of beating LSU.
Another positive indicator comes from Jay Bilas. In ranking a potential NCAA Tournament field, from No.1 to No. 68, Bilas has Alabama basketball as the fifth-best team in the SEC. Auburn at No. 11 per Bilas needed overtime to avoid being swept by the Tide. Bilas has LSU at No. 16. The two other teams he ranks above the Tide are No. 14 Kentucky and No. 37 Mississippi State. The Alabama Crimson Tide are next at No. 38.
The somewhat rosy perspectives cited above are fine for ‘can’ but ‘how’ is another matter. How can the Crimson Tide reverse a 14-point, January loss? LSU won that contest on the boards and at the free throw line. The main LSU players were 6-foot-6, Emmitt Williams with 23 points and 11 rebounds; Trendon Watford with 17 points and 15 rebounds and Skylar Mays with 18 points, including a perfect 8-for-8 at the foul line.
The rebound advantage for the Tigers was 18 boards, 49-31. The Tigers were plus-13 points at the foul line, hitting 95 percent. LSU shot 10 more free throws and the Tide’s free success was only 60 percent.
The three LSU players are tough, physical matchups for the Crimson Tide roster. They know how to muscle less strong and out-of-position defenders. Herbert Jones, even without two good hands, can cause problems for Mays. Although the Tide bigs have a height advantage over Williams and Watford, the LSU pair will be tough to contain inside. Not wasting fouls on reach-ins when out of position and blocking LSU off the boards will be important for Javian Davis, Alex Reese and Galin Smith.
If the Tide physically battles throughout, while valuing each possession and not making foolish fouls – the Crimson Tide can win. The home crowd will help. If Herbert Jones can effectively play for 20 minutes or more, the Tide defense can slow down LSU enough.
LSU is not a great 3-ball team. The Tigers are No. 298 in Division One, at 30.9 percent. Nate Oats does not use zone defenses often, but against LSU clogging up lanes to the basket might be a winning strategy.