Alabama vs. LSU preview: Key questions entering Saturday’s tilt in Baton Rouge

In Features by Philip Williams

The season resumes for Alabama and LSU look similar.

Alabama is Ken Pomeroy’s 53rd best team while LSU ranks at No. 52.

Alabama sits at No. 50 in the RPI while LSU’s is currently at No. 62.

While the two teams may look similar on paper, the way that the Tigers have played to this point seems incredibly more impressive.

LSU (11-4, 2-1) was picked to finish last in the conference coming off a season in which it placed 13th and fired its head coach.

Enter new head coach Will Wade and his freshman phenom point guard Tremont Waters. Suddenly, Baton Rouge has an optimism not seen in some time surrounding its hoops program.

The Tigers had picked up impressive wins against Michigan, Houston, and Texas A&M already this season before completely dismantling Arkansas in Fayetteville on Wednesday night.

I’ll repeat: LSU went to Arkansas, at Bud Walton Arena, and won by 21 points.

This does not happen.

So it’s no surprise that spirits are high for the Tigers as Alabama comes to town on Saturday.

As for the Crimson Tide, they were picked in the top four in the league by almost everyone, but have disappointed so far this season.  There have been glimpses of excellence (vs. Texas A&M and Rhode Island) but also of misery (vs. Texas and Georgia).

However, Alabama did snap its two-game losing streak by picking up a solid home win vs. South Carolina on Tuesday night in front of sparse crowd.

Fans may be tempering their expectations of this year’s Tide team, but Alabama still controls its own destiny this season with ESPN expert Joe Lunardi currently placing them as the first team out of the NCAA Tournament field.

Key Questions

What can Alabama do to slow Tremont Waters?

Waters has lit the SEC up so far, scoring 16 points a game while dishing out five assists per contest.

But It’s not just a numbers game with Waters. His decision-making when it comes to LSU’s high pick-and-roll offense has been superb.

He always seems to choose correctly, setting the Tigers up for success offensively even when he doesn’t score as much—Waters only went for eight points in LSU’s stomping of Arkansas.

For Alabama to slow Waters, and therefore slow LSU’s offense, it’s going to have to really mix up the looks it gives him on the screen-and-roll.

The Tide could look to hedge the screen hard sometimes, they could look to stay under the screen, or they could look to aggressively trap him immediately.

None of those options are the complete answer for a talent like Waters, but mixing up the way they play the screen can complicate the game for the freshman.

Is Alabama starting to rely on its post game?

Against South Carolina, Alabama got 30 points from its centers on an incredible 14 of 15 shooting night.

These buckets weren’t all lobs to Donta Hall either.

Hall made a sweet reverse layup, Daniel Giddens used fancy footwork to get some easy left-handed baskets, and Galin Smith established his jump hook.

Big man coach John Pelphrey had to be smiling from ear to ear as Alabama intentionally looked inside on several possessions.

Is this going to be the team’s identity going forward?

Even South Carolina head coach Frank Martin said that Alabama had to be commended for the job that they had done with Hall, but will the junior and his counterparts prepared to shoulder a heavier load of the scoring?

We shall see.

Who wins the point guard battle?

Collin Sexton has received more hype than Waters because of his ascension up NBA draft boards and because he still leads the league in scoring.

However, Waters leads the league in two less sexy statistics: assists and steals.

Sexton is coming off of a game in which he was held to just 2 of 8 shooting for five points in 22 minutes of play, his lowest totals of the season.

Because Sexton has so many offensive tricks in his bag, it’ll be hard to contain him for two games in a row.This may be especially true for an LSU team that lacks an elite rim-protector.

Shooters have had a lot of success against Alabama this season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a 42% 3-point shooter like Waters light it up from deep.

Additionally, Waters missed all four of his attempts from 3-point range against Arkansas so I don’t think the Tide can count on him shooting poorly two games in a row.

Phil’s Prediction

The late-night crowd at the PMAC makes the difference, as LSU keeps its momentum going and scores the close victory.

Prediction: LSU 77, Alabama 73

I’m a librarian and junior high boys basketball coach. My obsession with SEC basketball has grown so ludicrous that I won’t take another varsity hoops job because I’d miss almost all of conference play. I cover general SEC for Southeast Hoops.