What We Learned: Alabama stays hot with win over LSU

In Features by Philip Williams

Alabama downed LSU on Tuesday in one of its most highly-entertaining offensive performances of the season.

The Crimson Tide (17-9, 8-5) and big man Donta Hall provided highlight after highlight in their first mid-week win in nearly a month.

The win was important from an NCAA Tournament standpoint as well. Alabama needs to win only a game or two more this season to guarantee a bid, but the remaining schedule is daunting. All five opponents down the stretch have top 50 RPIs.

Luckily for the Tide though, they should be able to navigate that tough schedule if they keep up their recent streak of impressive play.

Here’s what we learned from Alabama’s big victory in Tuscaloosa.

Donta Hall is a dunking machine

Hall dunked the ball so much against LSU that Will Wade thought that “it looked like Hall was playing on a Nerf goal out there.”

Indeed it did.

Hall has 11 dunks over the past two games, and that doesn’t include two incredibly acrobatic alley-oop layups on Tuesday.

Alabama’s big man has a propensity to make an errant pass look like a great pass with his high-flying antics.

However, An undersold part of Hall’s ever-increasing offensive prowess has been his team’s interior passing. Avery Johnson, a former NCAA assist leader himself, surely approves of the number of easy buckets that Alabama is creating because of its ability to dish through traffic to Hall.

Braxton Key’s development

Key has developed into a great inside passer, and those passes haven’t just been lobs either.

Because the 6’8 forward has been scoring and attacking at a higher rate, he’s creating passing lanes that weren’t previously available. Earlier this season, as Key slowly came back from a knee injury, he played too passively with the ball in his hands, often looking to pass first.

He has seen an uptick in his scoring though lately, averaging over 11 points per game in his last four games. Now, as Key has become more aggressive in his scoring role, teams are having to use their help-side defense more, which creates easy opportunities for a willing and able passer like Key to find guys like Hall and Daniel Giddens for easy dunks.

The Crimson Tide faithful are starting to see a return to form from Key. As we have noted many times this season, for Alabama to be great, its former leading scorer needs to play better on the offensive end.

He has played well lately, and the results are clear—Alabama is becoming a dangerous team.

This team is having fun

There’s been a different feel in Coleman Coliseum the last two games.

Collin Sexton has been able to dip deeper into his bag of tricks, pulling out old favorites like the Jason Williams fake-behind-the-back-pass layup and the open-court wraparound dribble.

Everybody on the team is throwing lobs. Dazon Ingram – who Wade said they weren’t even going to guard on the perimeter – is draining 3-point shots. The walk-on chants are getting started with eight minutes left to play.

Hall is dunking at will, and Alabama players are storming to pick each other up after being fouled, per Avery Johnson’s request.

In short, Alabama is having fun.

The energy in the building is palpable, even on nights where it’s less than full like Tuesday’s late tip. And it’s impacting every facet of the game.

Alabama’s offensive energy and the energy from the crowd is affecting the defensive play too. The Tide have shot up to the top 10 of KenPom’s defensive efficiency ratings, and they are easily the SEC’s best defensive team during conference play per KenPom as well.

Wade was clearly frustrated by the Tide’s defense.

“You can’t go anywhere,” he said after the game. “When they got guys that keep the ball in front and guys that sit in the gap with 7-foot wingspans, there’s just nowhere to really go. You can’t drive the ball and you can’t finish over them in the post. There’s nowhere to go.”

Although it’s always tough to win at Rupp against Kentucky and Auburn has been almost unbeatable at home this year too, Alabama is playing with a swagger that we haven’t seen yet this season.

Let’s see if it carries over to the next two road games.

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.