In the ever-improving world of Southeastern Conference men's basketball, challenges come from all angles — and they can come rather quickly.
Just ask LSU, which has seen it all in a span of eight days.
The Tigers went from playing Texas A&M and its imposing front line to facing Arkansas’ fast-paced three-guard offense in the past week. Now they get ready for a totally different type of guard play for Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. matchup with Alabama in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
After holding Arkansas’ three high-scoring guards to about 20 points less than their combined average in a 75-54 pummeling of the Razorbacks on Wednesday night, LSU (11-4, 2-1 SEC) will be asked to match up with some bigger, sturdier guards when Alabama (10-6, 2-2) calls.
Starting with SEC player of the year candidate Collin Sexton, a 6-foot-3 freshman who is the league’s leading scorer at 19.5 points a game, Avery Johnson’s team is stacked in the backcourt.
Freshman John Petty and sophomore Dazon Ingram both stand 6-5, while freshman Herbert Jones is 6-7. Those four guards combine for 46.7 points a game, accounting for 62.3 percent of the Crimson Tide’s offensive output.
“Different guards, different game,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “These guards are a little bit bigger, a little bit longer. So there’s not a lot of carryover in terms of that. They’re totally different-type guys (than Arkansas).”
Sexton is the one everyone will have their eyes on. He’s scored 20 points or more in nine of the 15 games he’s played, torching Minnesota for 40 points and Arizona for 30.
Considering star LSU freshman guard Tremont Waters is listed at 5 feet, 11 inches, it’s likely Skylar Mays (6-4) or Daryl Edwards (6-3) will draw the defensive assignment with help from Randy Onwasor (6-3) — even though Wade didn’t count out Waters.
“He’s defended them pretty good this year,” Wade said Waters’ play against bigger guards. “He has got to step up and play both ends of the court, which he’s been doing a much better job of lately. He needs to step up and make it happen.”
If he’s called on, Waters knows what to expect after playing against Sexton once in AAU ball in the summer of 2016.
“He’s a very fast, electric point guard that comes out and wants to score the ball,” said Waters, who has been huge in averaging 16.8 points per game with a league-best 6.1 assists. “He’s very fast; he can shoot the ball.
“You don’t come across players like him very much; he’s like a Russell Westbrook-kind of player. He’s very fast with the ball, and he’s not making too many moves. He’s just going downhill to the basket.”
“He’s a dynamic player,” Wade said. “Number one thing is he draws a ton of fouls; he draws about eight fouls a game, top 10 in the country. Being able to get in your defense, draw some fouls, and get to the free-throw line is a major concern for us. He is big and he’s physical.”
The good news for Wade in trying to keep Alabama’s guards down on offense is the Tigers’ defense has shown marked improvement in the past six games.
Since an 83-82 loss to Stephen F. Austin on Dec. 16, they’ve allowed just 61.2 points a game in their past six outings and have given up more than 70 points just once, in a 74-71 setback against Kentucky.
Sexton, Petty, Ingram and Jones are also key on the other end of the court, where they have helped Alabama rank first in the league in steals and are second in scoring defense at 65.0 points per game in conference play.
Add in solid players down low in forwards Braxton Key and Donta Hall and the Crimson Tide have a formidable formula, Wade said.
“I’m worried about their defense … they pack it in,” he said. “They’ll do some different stuff with Tre (Waters). They will probably face-guard him. They did that to Georgia and a couple other teams earlier this year. We certainly have a big challenge ahead of us.”