Is it weird if I'm STILL thinking payback for this?
There's obviously no basketball rivalry between LSU and UAB, so this current batch will be forgiven for not having much animosity toward the Blazers.
But they damn well better respect them despite a 4-6 record, because LSU needs laser focus in this final road game before SEC play. And the task is all the more difficult for who may be sitting on the bench rather than running the offense.
Josh Gray is very much doubtful for this one after rolling his ankle against Sam Houston last weekend. Tim Quarterman is probable with an unknown lower-body issue, but he seems expected to play. Still, this is a major challenge for a backcourt already plagued by depth issues. Quarterman and Gray are the two primary ball handlers on the roster, and at least one of them has almost always been on the floor this season.
Without Gray, Jalyn Patterson should see the first major minutes of his career. A road environment is not ideal for that debut, especially since LSU has had turnover issues this season anyway. One option to stem this concern would be to run a lot of high-motion sets, getting the ball out of Patterson's hands early in the shot clock and, hopefully, into Jordan Mickey or Jarell Martin's hands within the arc.
As usual this year, the Tigers have the size advantage here since the Blazers have no true center and only play three forwards in significant minutes. This is where LSU's focus comes in. They were out rebounded by an undersized SHSU squad last weekend, so expect a, ahem, bounceback performance in that area. Anything less will be disappointing.
LSU cruised past UAB, 86-63, last season in the PMAC and this year's Blazer squad doesn't seem to be as good as that one. But they're no slouches, either, and they are tested. Three of the their losses came courtesy of Wisconsin, Florida and UCLA, with the defeats against the Gators and Bruins being quite competitive. Even a 74-70 loss to Illinois State - which made the finals of the same Paradise Jam where LSU finished 6th - was ultra close. The Blazers are on the verge and waiting to breakthrough with a quality win.
Maybe that's why AL.com actually picked them to spring the upset, though it's more likely LSU's injury situation played a role there. UAB does have the ability to pull it off, especially with junior transfer Robert Brown taking off recently. The guard has piled up 46 points his last two times out and freshman forward William Lee - the 2014 Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year - is in the lineup for good after some knee setbacks. It's a team gelling and working with a modicum of talent and desperate to knock off a big opponent.
I expect LSU to play with fire a little too much here, look really bad for long stretches with a hobbled Quarterman and a shaky Patterson and maybe even trail by double digits. But I also think there's enough grit and leadership from Martin and Mickey to dig LSU out. A win is enough for now, especially with the injury issues.
A blowout victory would be a bonus (not to mention, a great sign going forward) and a close loss would be understandable, albeit frustrating. It's all on the table with Gray out.