by Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
January 19th, 2021
#18 Alabama at LSU
Spread: LSU (+1); O/U: 164.5
Moneyline: Alabama -112; LSU +102
Time/Location: 9:00 ET, Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Alabama Crimson Tide (11-3, 6-0)
Alabama is one of the candidates in the SEC to rear Tennessee as second best in the conference come conference tournament time, a position suddenly vacant considering the shortcomings of Kentucky, and one hotly pursued by many teams. Despite the football team winning the National Championship this season, there’s little chance of the basketball squad doing the same. While they can score in bunches and have one of the better collections of shooters in the country, they simply don’t have the chops to pull off the upset in a season that feels a bit more level than most in my opinion.
We’ve seen Alabama spit out great NBA prospects over the past few seasons, something that allows Nate Oats to continue pulling good players from high school, and this season likely won’t be any different. While they don’t have the 20 point scorer or monster rebounder or master facilitator, they do have a bunch of guys who can shoot the lights out. Sophomore Jaden Shackleford is leading the way this season with 13.6 points per game with a 37% clip from the outside. John Petty is flanking Shackleford as the 2nd leading scorer on the team with 13.5 per game of his own and is shooting even better from three, almost an entire point higher.
If you were to look at the individual scoring totals of Alabama you might not recognize them as one of the premier scoring teams in the country, but their depth and consistency make them such. They were able to overcome the sweltering Tennessee defense with one of the best shooting performances of the season and have even bumped their shooting numbers since conference play began. Like I said, this team doesn’t have the chops to win a title. They don’t have the defense, nor do they have a go-to stud like Kispert, Garza, Butler, or Bouknight. But as long as their guys are playing hard, playing consistently, and working hard, guided by Nate Oats, there’s a puncher’s chance in every game.
LSU Tigers (10-2, 5-1)
Where you might find Alabama’s scoring to be unsuspecting based on their top performers, LSU’s scoring is far from it. The Tigers are 10th in the country in points scored per game under Will Wade at 86.1 and though that figure has fallen a tad in conference play, it’s nothing significant. Wade has pulled some very nice recruiting classes since joining LSU and the gem of this most recent one is the player putting LSU’s name in others’ mouths: Cam Thomas. The 6’4 shooting guard came out of Oak Hill Academy and is tearing the SEC up with 22 points per game. He doesn’t have too many other major contributions, but the scoring is more than enough, especially considering just how good he’s been shooting the ball. A lot of people point to his inefficiencies from three, shooting just 30.8%, but that’s what someone of his caliber should be shooting. The great shooters who carry teams need to be shooting enough so that their totals aren’t astronomical and Thomas knows that. It pays tribute to his understanding of his role in the team.
Thomas is part of a team that’s arguably one of the most efficient on the offensive end in the country. KenPom has LSU ranked 5th in the country in offensive efficiency, better than all except Gonzaga, Baylor, Iowa, and Villanova. That’s good company. The other major components of the unit are Trendon Watford, Javonte Smart, and Darius Days. Those players are all averaging over 13 points per game and happen to be the only other players on the team averaging over five. While the distribution is lopsided, it works. Watford is one of the most dominant big men in the SEC and flexes his muscle with range. Smart is one of the best shooters in the conference with a 45.9% clip from three on over five attempts per game. Days is shooting over 40% from three and cleans up whatever Watford misses on the boards. Those four propel this team forward while the rest provide minimal yet absolutely critical maintenance.
LSU is like Alabama in that they’re not good enough to win a title playing the way they currently are. They have the go-to scorer, but their defense is far from adequate. While they’re clearly playing well in the SEC they’re allowing a lot of points to teams who don’t score a lot of points. It’s a sacrifice that’s necessary to play the way LSU does, but it’s one that will rear an ugly and devastating head when countered correctly. So far LSU has kept the damage to a minimum, but their methods will be put to the test against their bitter rivals.
Analysis and Pick
Alabama and LSU is a rivalry that doesn’t have the storied tradition on the hardwood as it does on the football field, but that doesn’t mean these teams like each other. The rivalry still burns on and this edition should be one of the most exciting yet. Both teams want to score, both teams can score, and neither has much interest in defense. This is setting up to be a shootout if there was ever such a thing. This is about as tight of a spread as it can be with the number swinging a point either way depending on your book, but I’m not as interested in that number as I am in the total.
Neither team has faced a number quite this high this season, but Alabama’s last game against Arkansas came close at 163.5. That total didn’t hit despite Alabama scoring 90 points because Arkansas was held to just 59, but that won’t deter me. Alabama did see over 164 points in their game with Auburn, a team that is a whole lot like LSU. In addition, LSU games have gone over that 164 watermark three times in their last four events. Take the over 164.5 in this game considering the fantastic shooting and lack of defense.
Zack is 9-7 picking College Basketball games this season.