Here are three questions for today's (5 p.m. CT/ESPN) SEC basketball game between Alabama (18-9, 7-6 in SEC) and Mississippi State (19-9, 6-7) at Coleman Coliseum.
If Lacey can't go, Cooper will need to provide some offense.
How much have these teams changed since their first matchup this season?
Tony Mitchell, recently banished for the remainder of the season by Alabama coach Anthony Grant, led the Crimson Tide in rebounds in Starkville back on Jan. 14, pulling down 10 boards in 38 minutes of work. Meanwhile, freshman guard Rodney Cooper, who took a DNP in the first meeting, has played at least 24 minutes in each of the Crimson Tide's last three games.
Amazing stat: There have been four player suspensions since the first meeting between these teams and none of them involved Mississippi State forward Renardo Sidney (10.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg). Injuries and a general lack of fitness have slowed the big man -- he's played more than 29 minutes in just one game this season -- but fighting hasn't.
In addition to Mitchell, guard Trevor Lacey, a starter against State six weeks ago who went down with an ankle injury in UA's win over Arkansas Thursday night, is extremely questionable for today's game. Meanwhile, State may be without a guard of its own as the status of Rodney Hood (11 ppg, 4.9 rpg) for Alabama was uncertain after the freshman suffered a deep knee bruise in the Bulldogs' midweek loss to Kentucky.
Morale-wise, MSU comes to Tuscaloosa riding a four-game losing streak, a skid that includes losses to Georgia (at home), LSU and Auburn, while Alabama seems to be hitting stride following wins over Tennessee and Arkansas.
How will Alabama respond to the quick turnaround?
Granted, this Thursday-Saturday swing comes later in the SEC grind. Still, UA didn't seem to have a problem with its legs following the turnaround from Vanderbilt to Kentucky last month. In fact, it could be argued that the Crimson Tide played one of its best games of the season on the back end of the stretch, a 77-71 road loss to the Wildcats.
Physically, Alabama will be helped by a rotation that stretches to as many as 11 players. That's important because the Crimson Tide will need to send fresh bodies at MSU's dynamic duo of point guard Dee Bost (16 ppg, 5.1 apg) and post Arnett Moultrie (16.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg).
Mentally, as if playing for its NCAA Tournament life against a State team that is 1-5 in road SEC games this season isn't enough, playing at home in front of a capacity crowd should keep UA from sleep walking through one of its biggest games of the season.
How much of JaMychal Green will we see tonight?
This team hasn't just survived Green's latest suspension; it has learned to win without him. So the question is more about how Green will be worked back into the mix than how the mix will be worked back in with Green.
That said, in Sidney and Moultrie, who dropped 25 points and 13 rebounds on Alabama in the season's first meeting, State will present the most skilled frontcourt UA has seen since Kentucky.
While Nick Jacobs, Carl Engstrom and Moussa Gueye should be commended for turning in solid performances during Green's absence, it's hard to imagine an available Green not being used to help offset Sidney and Moultrie, especially on the glass. Just a hunch, but here's guessing Green, who scored 14 points against MSU in round one, isn't dressing for the sole purpose of evening out the layup lines.
The Man says: Alabama -6.5.
Prediction: Alabama 68, Mississippi State 65.
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