On Saturday the Tigers have a chance to make a statement.
LSU (15-9, 6-7) plays host to the SEC's No. 2 team, Alabama (18-8, 10-3), at 12:30 p.m. in the PMAC. The SEC Network will have the television broadcast.
At stake for the Bayou Bengals, winners of their last four at home, is conference positioning down the stretch and a possible berth in the NIT. And for the Tide: another step on the path to making the Big Dance.
Here are the projected starting lineups for Saturday's contest.
LSU (15-9, 6-7)
G Anthony Hickey (So., 5-11, 178) – 11.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.9 apg, 3.2 spg
G Andre Stringer (Jr., 5-10, 182) – 10.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 2.0 apg, 39.8% 3s
G Malik Morgan (Fr., 6-4, 188) – 5.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.4 spg, 40.2% FGs
F Johnny O'Bryant (So., 6-9, 258) – 13.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 49.4% FGs, 3.2 TOs
C Andrew Del Piero (Sr., 7-3, 254) – 4.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.2 bpg, 59.7 FGs
Key Rotational Players: G Charles Carmouche (Sr., 6-4, 187; averages 9.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg and 1.9 spg) and F Shavon Coleman (Jr., 6-5, 195; averages 10.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg and shoots 44.5% FGs)
Alabama (18-8, 10-3)
G Trevor Releford (Jr., 6-0, 195) – 14.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.1 spg, 46.6% FGs
G Trevor Lacey (So., 6-3, 215) – 11.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.2 apg, 38.1% 3s
G Levi Randolph (So., 6-5, 205) – 7.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.8 apg, 75.0% FTs
G/F Rodney Cooper (So., 6-6, 215) – 11.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.0 apg, 43.2% FGs
C Moussa Gueye (Jr., 7-0, 255) – 1.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 45.8% FTs
Key Rotational Players: F Nick Jacobs (So., 6-8, 265; averages 6.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg and shoots 51.7% FGs) and F Devonta Pollard (Fr., 6-8, 200; averages 4.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg and shoots 60.0% FTs)
The Crimson Tide come in red-hot, having won four straight and six of seven. During that seven-game span, defensive-minded ‘Bama is giving up just 53.6 points per game with no opponent scoring more than 58.
However, Alabama has proven to be more vulnerable on the road than at home, both in SEC play and at large for the 2012-13 season.
Anthony Grant's squad is 4-5 overall away from Coleman Coliseum and 3-3 on the road in the league (compared to 7-0 at home in conference games). Included in that tally of away-contest defeats are a 49-37 setback at rival Auburn and a 54-53 ‘L' at Tennessee.
The Tigers, conversely, have defended home court valiantly since dropping their first two SEC games in the PMAC to Florida and South Carolina. Johnny Jones' team has averaged 67.0 points in wins versus Texas A&M, Missouri, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.
Clearly pace, and which team sets it, will go a long way toward determining the winner in Baton Rouge.
LSU also comes in with a bit of the revenge factor on its mind. Outside of the home overtime loss to South Carolina, it's the first leg of this series (a 60-57 Alabama win in Tuscaloosa) which several players have cited recently as the most disappointing outcome of the season to date.
In that matchup on Feb. 9, the Tigers cut the lead to three late but couldn't quite pull off the comeback despite several missed Crimson Tide free throws in the final minute.
Johnny O'Bryant had 22 points and 11 rebounds in the game, and the man who guarded him for much of the night – Nick Jacobs – had 15 points, five rebounds and three blocks off the bench. Both teams shot below 38% from the floor.
(Friday afternoon update: As Laken Litman of our Alabama sister site wrote earlier today, it looks like F Nick Jacobs may not be able to go Saturday after straining his back in the Tide's recent win over Mississippi State. Reserve guard Andrew Steele is also a game-time decision, dealing with an ankle injury.)
This time around Jones is hopeful LSU can do a better job against the physical guards of Alabama.
"I think you just have to continue to try to stay inside and make them play over top of you," Jones said of Alabama, which shoots 32.8% from three as a team. "We have to play with a sense of urgency and toughness. We're hopeful that we do a better job of helping defensively in terms of our rotations. We've got to continue to rebound the basketball against them."
Jones also acknowledges that while ‘Bama gets flak for "winning ugly," the Crimson Tide make a fair share of winning plays at the end of the day.
"They're capable of, I guess they call it kind of ‘mucking' the game up a little defensively," noted Jones. "They play a different style defensively. They play extremely physical. They try and take you out of your offense in certain areas. You can break them down and maybe take them away from some things that they're trying to do offensively, but they're still capable of making some plays that are necessary at the end of ball games, and they've been able to do that."
Coming off the Tennessee game, LSU's guards will have another tough challenge on their hands, particularly in manning the two Trevors. But, in order for the Tigers to score a major win, it will be key for the home team to get a legitimate scoring contribution from someone other than O'Bryant.
PREVIEW: LSU vs. Alabama
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