Know the Foe: West-Leading Alabama Winning with Defense

Today’s game: MSU (11-9, 3-3 SEC) at Alabama (13-7, 5-1), 7 p.m., SEC Network (Dave Neal play-by-play, Joe Dean analyst)

We’ve seen this show once before, and Alabama dominated in a 75-57 victory in Starkville on Jan. 8. Methinks this rematch will be a little bit closer. The Bulldogs sure think so.

Not that Bama has regressed. Quite the opposite. It leads the Western Division and is playing as consistently as anybody in the league.

What really makes the Tide tough is its defensive play. It’s tops in the SEC in scoring defense (56.8 ppg) and field goal percentage defense (36.1). MSU coach Rick Stansbury singled out 6-foot-8 senior center Chris Hines as a big part of that defensive effort.

Hines averages just 5.3 ppg, but he’s recording 6.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.3 steals per game.

“I think Hines is a guy who doesn’t get talked about enough, a guy that stands for what they’re doing right now, makes a lot of tough plays, does a lot of little things that you’ve got to have to win,” Stansbury said Monday.

If you’re looking for pure talent, you’ll find it in junior forward JaMychal Green (15.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and freshman point guard Trevor Releford (9.5 ppg, 3.5 apg). Green had 16 points and 11 boards in the first meeting, while Releford gave MSU fits and scoring a team-leading 17 points.

Of course, that was the season debut for MSU point guard Dee Bost, and big man Renardo Sidney was just returning from his second suspension – hadn’t even played two games in a row.

Both were rusty. Sidney still is a big question mark, but Bost has quickly found his stride. He should have the advantage tonight against Releford, but will it be enough to offset Green vs. Sidney?

Well, plenty of other factors will count, but those are the two most prominent. Otherwise, State needs to hit the glass (it’s 10th in the league in defensive rebounding percentage, 12th in offensive), have the good Sidney show up, and keep making those late-game free throws.

For now, Bama is the class of the West, a title bestowed prior to the season upon MSU. Tonight can begin the Bulldogs’ process of reclaiming that distinction.