Kentucky Wildcats @ LSU Tigers: Game Preview

The Kentucky Wildcats head down to the bayou in Baton Rouge on Saturday afternoon to take on the LSU Tigers, last year's SEC champion, but this year's SEC doormat.  The Tigers and Wildcats have a long history of tough games in the SEC dating back to the days of Dale Brown.  The annual renewal of this once-great SEC matchup does not seem a likely place for the Tigers to get their first win, but stranger things have happened

Let's take a quick look at the comparison between the Tigers and the Wildcats,  courtesy of Statsheet.com:

Rank and Records UK LSU
RPI #6 #206
Strength of Schedule #60 #88
Overall 21-1 9-13
Conference 6-1 0-8
Home 14-0 9-5
Away 3-1 0-5
Neutral 4-0 0-3
Top 25 6-0 0-5
RPI Top 50 6-0 0-3

LSU has significant losses against the Connecticut Huskies (47), the Arizona St. Sun Devils (26), the Xavier Musketeers(21), the Florida Gators (45), the Mississippi Rebels (38), the Mississippi St. Bulldogs (33), and the Tennessee Volunteers (29).  The best win the Tigers have this year is against the Indiana St. Sycamores (151), Larry Bird's alma mater.

More after the jump.  Just like last time, I did the first part of this analysis and Ken did the second part starting with the position analysis.  For more on the LSU Tigers, be sure to check out SB Nation's excellent LSU blog, And The Valley Shook.

We will begin the analysis by the usual look at the dashboard. Don't forget, this thing is interactive.

Four Factors Analysis

The analysis of this game could not be more stark.  LSU is a thoroughly rotten offensive team, and an average defensive team.

Zooming in on the SEC part of the season by moving the left slider over until it shows only the last six LSU games, you can see that the Wildcats have consistently been vastly superior to the Tigers in offensive efficiency.  If you zoom in to the last five games, you'll SEE that LSU had a peek around game 18, but it will take all that and more to defeat the Wildcats.  Defensively, the Tigers just haven't been very efficient at all lately, allowing an average of 110 points per 100 possessions during the SEC season.

Offensively, the Wildcats are tough for anyone, but they are really mismatched against this version of the LSU Tigers.  In the SEC season, the Wildcats are outshooting the Tigers by 10 percentage points per game in eFG%, and outrebounding LSU on the offensive glass by almost 8% per game.  Kentucky gets to the line almost 11% more than the Tigers do.  Only in turnover % are the Tigers even close to Kentucky, and still they are slightly worse.

Defensively, the disparity is just as great, with the Tigers allowing opponents to shoot almost 10% better than the Wildcats do.  The Wildcats force more turnovers than the Tigers, but the Tigers do rebound the basketball an insignificantly small amount better than Kentucky does.  Finally, the Tigers put teams on the line more than the 'Cats.

Kentucky shoots 3-point shots better, shoots more 3-pointers per FG attempt, and utilizes the bench more than the Tigers.  Kentucky also plays the game at a significantly higher pace than LSU, and if Kentucky gets to dictate the pace on Saturday, look out.

The only thing LSU has going for them has nothing whatever to do with statistics.  This isn't exactly a classic trap game for Kentucky, but it has elements of a trap, as UK will be looking forward to the two game home stand it has coming up after this game, first with the decent Alabama Crimson Tide, and next with the rival Tennessee Volunteers.  The 'Cats could well be looking past this game, and therein lies LSU's best chance to pull the upset. 

Position Analysis

LSU had coach Trent Johnson has used several different players in starting roles this season.  For the purposes of this comparison, the LSU starters I will break down are the players he has been utilizing recently.   

Position Analysis: Point Guard

Six-two junior Bo Spencer (who will be broken down as a two-guard today), 6'4" freshman Aaron Dotson, and 6'1" sophomore Chris Bass have all been used at the point guard spot.  Bass has 11 starts (but only one start in the last four games), and has played only 13 combined minutes over the last two games, and Dotson has started the last two games.

Neither Dotson (30.1%) nor Bass (38.9) is shooting the ball very well, on the season, with both also struggling from three-point range: Dotson has made only 6-41 trey attempts (14.6%), and Bass has made only 5-24 (20.8%).  This allows opponents to sag off the guards, reducing the passing lanes to the paint, and making it easier to cut off penetration. 

In the 2-3 zone Johnson is likely to employ, Dotson and Bass will find themselves out front.  But, are they quick enough to keep UK's John Wall from penetrating into the seams of the defense?  Probably not.  Will they sufficiently pressure UK's guards?  Probably not.  Will they create turnovers with their quickness and cunning?  Probably not.

What this means for UK and point guard John Wall: An opportunity exists this afternoon to exploit LSU's weak guard pressure, and anytime that is a possibility, Wall will surely take advantage of the mismatch to create for his teammates, and utilize the DDMO more than ever. 

Advantage: Big Kentucky

Position Analysis: Two-Guard

Bo Spencer will likely be employed at the shooting guard spot.  Although Spencer has been a disappointment this season after having a strong freshman year, he's still averaging 15.0 points per game.  One can theorize why Spencer is shooting only 28.5% from beyond the arc (41-144), but most likely it comes from trying to do too much for the anemic Tiger offense.  With only forward Tasmin Mitchell, Spencer, and forward Storm Warren averaging over 4.3 points per game (yes, you read that right), the pressure is constantly on for the three to produce points.

Spencer, who scored 25 points versus Tennessee this week, is capable of having a big shooting day, but with Eric Bledsoe more than likely drawing the assignment of guarding Spencer, the Tiger will be faced with pressure, and a chance-taker.  Spencer is also capable of driving to the hole.

Bledsoe, will once again be faced with the 2-3 zone defense, and as usual, he will have the opportunity to take and make the three.  The chance to penetrate the zone, which is something he has been doing more of recently, will also present itself.  Getting around the guards out front, quite honestly, should prove to be very doable for Bledsoe, but 6'7" Tasmin Mitchell, and 6'11" Dennis Harris will challenge the drivers once they've found the paint area.

Advantage: Big Kentucky

Position Analysis:  Small Forward

Tasmin Mitchell is the Tigers' overwhelmingly best player.  An all-league performer, Mitchell is averaging 17.6 points per game, on 46.7% overall shooting.  At 6'7", Mitchell has great handles, quickness, and has tremendous athletic ability, and will be a real challenge for whoever draws the assignment of guarding the experienced, talented performer (DeAndre Liggins, Ramon Harris, Patrick Patterson).  Mitchell, whose bread is buttered by his mid-range jumper and ability to put the ball on the floor and drive, will also take the occasional three-point shot (he averages 2.6 taken threes per game). 

Mitchell is also a physical presence on the blocks, leading the Tigers with 9.9 rebounds per game (3.2 off. rebounds per game).  He is talented enough to challenge UK's Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins for board supremacy this afternoon. 

UK's Darnell Dodson (two starts in a row) and Darius Miller, UK's primary wing players, provide Trent Johnson with a problem.  With guards Aaron Dotson and Chris Bass concentrating on stopping John Wall and Eric Bledsoe, who does the LSU head man go with to pressure two of Kentucky's most dangerous outside shooting threats?  For taking Michell, or Storm Warren (LSU's best rebounders) away from the basket could be a dangerous decision. 

UK has a legitimate conundrum, also  Mitchell, at 245 lbs, is a load, and he possesses both the aforementioned quickness to create problems with his drive from the perimeter, and the bulk and athletic ability to challenge Cousins and Patterson in the paint.  

Advantage: Draw

Position analysis:  Power Forward

LSU"s Storm Warren, averaging 12.4 points, and 7.7 rebounds per game ( 3.5 off. rebounds per game) has been a solid player for the Tigers this season.  Shooting 56.0% from the field, he gets most of his points in and around the paint.  He is an excellent off-the-ball defender, getting most of his team-leading 1.4 blocks per game on a teammate's man. 

UK's Patrick Patterson, who seems to be finding a home both in the paint and on the perimeter, has become the dreaded double-threat Kentucky coach John Calipari envisioned prior to the season. 

Advantage: Kentucky

Position analysis:  Center 

Six-eleven freshman Dennis Harris has started six of the last seven LSU contests.  While he averages only 4.3 points per game,and 3.0 rebounds per game, he's only playing an average of 13.3 minutes per game.  Harris is light, checking in at only 190 lbs, so he'll need help from his teammates in stopping UK's best player of late, DeMarcus Cousins.

UK's Cousins, will once again find himself confronted with multiple defenders on the catch.  But, the Tigers have no one possessing both Cousins' size and physicality.  Mitchell and Warren will more that likely be responsible for slowing down UK's point/rebound machine, but in reality, their best chance at stopping Cousins will be if the big man brings the ball down, instead of going straight to the hole.

As is becoming customary, Cousins, if he stays out of foul trouble, should have a big game.

Advantage: Big Kentucky 

Bench Analysis

Possibly receiving more playing time this afternoon due to his size, is 6'11" sophomore Garrett Green.  He averages only 10.0 minutes per game, and doesn't shoot the ball very well at only 30.0%, but Johnson might be forced to use him more extensively in an attempt to slow down UK's Cousins and Patterson.  Another big body off the LSU bench is 6'9" freshman forward Eddie Ludwig.  Ludwig plays 11.8 minutes per game, and averages 2.0 points per game, and may be another performer Trent Johnson looks at to help offset UK's paint advantage. 

Both big men provide LSU with 10 fouls to give, so look for some physical play underneath the basket.

Also coming of the Tiger bench is 6'4" junior guard Chris Beattie.  Beattie has played 39 total minutes over the last two games, after averaging 6.6 minutes per game for the year.  He's taken only 19 shots on the year, with 13 of them being from long-range (5-13 for 38.5%), so look for him to be the designated three-point shooter this afternoon.  Sophomore swing player Zach Kinsley, a walk-on, is averaging 15.7 minutes per game, and is another three-point shooter.  He's proved to have a good shooting eye.

Projected Score: Kentucky 84  LSU  65

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