Alabama (15-5 overall) is 2-4 in SEC play this year, but no team in the division has fewer than four conference losses. Auburn and Arkansas share the lead for the division with 3-4 SEC records, but any team could obviously take over the division in the last 10 conference games.
LSU (13-7 overall, 2-4 SEC) will host Alabama Wednesday night at 8 p.m. It will be the second time the two teams have played in 22 days. Alabama beat LSU 71-61 in Coleman Coliseum on January 9. Despite the malaise SEC West teams have shown this year, Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried thinks the game will be played at a high level.
"I think you've got two very good basketball teams and I think we will both play well," he said. "We have not played well but we can turn it around."
"We're a good basketball team and our players need to be reminded of that," Gottfried said.
Another scheduling quirk (one which Gottfried has shown displeasure over with the league office, and blamed on scheduling requirements dictated by television) had Alabama playing and losing to Arkansas twice in the month of January. Alabama's last outing was a 63-57 loss to the Hogs that was only made close on the scoreboard in the final minutes.
"I though our effort was good enough, our defense was good enough and our offense was pitiful," Gottfried said of the Tide's last outing. "We have to make sure we're getting the right shots with the right guys and if we do that we have to live with the results."
Gottfried feels like his team is getting enough good looks at the basketb, but is hurting itself by missing open looks and by making bone-headed plays. He cited examples of Ron Steele missing an open jumper against Arkansas, and Richard Hendrix and Alonzo Gee missing from point-blank range in that game.
Freshman guard Justin Tubbs came off the bench to give Alabama an energy lift on the defensive end, as did forward Demetrius Jemison. Brandon Hollinger has provided good defensive effort for Alabama for most of the season. None show much offensive prowess, but Gottfried said there could be shake-ups in the lineup to get more intensity.
Junior College transfer Mykal Riley has been the starter on the wing, but lately has struggled, going scoreless against Arkansas and getting just four points on the road at Auburn.
"It's a possibility," Gottfried said when asked about changing the lineup. "It's something we're talking about right now.
When Arkansas beat Alabama it became the first team in the division to win a road game this season. Bama has had a dismal record on the road under Gottfried, but the coach dismissed having second thoughts.
"Let me explain this home-road thing a little bit," he said. "There's not a team in our league that doesn't go into every game thinking they are going to win. You are going to prepare each and every game with the mindset of winning it."
One man Alabama has played without, even though he has been on the court every game, is Steele. Having been playing while nursing an injured ankle (which he suffered while playing with tendonitis in his knee), Steele has been lacking in ability to take defenders off the dribble and applying pressure on defense. Steele had just one point against Arkansas after looking as sharp as he had all year against Auburn (where he scored 19 points.)
"He's not – we've talked about him all year long. He's not as sharp and quick," Gottfried said. "We're hoping he walks in to practice one day with that burst of speed he has and if he's not we have to find a way to win with him how he is."
The game will be televised on Lincoln Financial television networks (formerly JP).