At 4:00 PM on Saturday, the Kentucky Wildcats travel down to the bayou of Baton Rouge, Louisiana to challenge the LSU Tigers in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (AKA the "Deaf Dome"). The crowd will no doubt be a sellout, and as raucous as any in the SEC.
LSU is much better than they have been the last couple of years, due primarily to a significant infusion of young talent. LSU has already won more games this year than last, despite only managing a 2-4 record so far in the SEC. To be fair to the Tigers, however, every one of their losses in the SEC have been on the road. They have been very good at home.
The Bayou Bengals are coming off a close loss to the Mississippi St. Bulldogs, and other than the loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks, the Tigers have lost only to the top teams in the SEC including Florida and Alabama, as well as MSU. LSU has had a very tough row to hoe in the early going, particularly on the road.
The Tigers got some good news last game when injured freshman star forward Johnny O'Bryant III returned from a broken hand that kept him out for five games. He played 20 minutes in LSU's most recent game against the MSU Bulldogs, and seemed to show no ill effects from the injury. LSU also sports last year's Kentucky Mr. Basketball as their starting point guard.
The bad news for the Bayou Bengals is that reserve forward Jalen Courtney is still sick with strep throat, and remains questionable for the game against Kentucky Saturday.
|Andre Stringer||6th Man
|Johnny O`Bryant III||Possible Starter
|Andrew Del Piero||Reserve||Jr.||C||4||3.0||0.3||1.5||16.7||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.3||1.0||25.0||0.5||0.0||0.5||0.0||0.5||0.0||0.3||0.3||0.8|
*Questionable for Saturday due to strep throat.
LSU Strengths vs. UK
- Defense. LSU is a good defensive team, although that has slipped quite a bit in SEC play.
- LSU forces quite a few turnovers and is 3rd in the SEC in creating gifts from opponents.
- LSU is a solid ballhandling team, slightly better than Kentucky taking care of the rock.
- LSU has very good front-court size and depth.
- Playing at home. LSU has lost only 2 games at home this year.
LSU Weaknesses vs. UK
- LSU's effective field goal percentage against SEC competition is only 46%. That runs squarely into one of Kentucky's biggest strengths -- shooting percentage defense.
- LSU struggles to score inside the arc, and Kentucky is the second best in the nation in 2-point defense.
- LSU, on the year shoots a free throw on only 27% of their field goal attempts. That is 335th in all of Division I. They simply don't get to the line, the most efficient scoring spot there is.
Kentucky Strengths vs. LSU
- LSU has really struggled to defend inside the arc in SEC play. That looks very scary for them on a stats comparison.
- LSU puts teams on the line, a lot. Kentucky is one of the best in the nation at getting there anyway, so that combination can be deadly.
- Kentucky blocks 23% of shot attempts, and LSU gives up quite a few blocks, even to lesser teams.
Kentucky Weaknesses vs. LSU
- Depth in the front court.
- Playing on the road
Key Matchups for Kentucky:
- Anthony Hickey vs. Marquis Teague. This will be an intriguing matchup, since Hickey was Kentucky's Mr. Basketball and never got any love at all from the Wildcats, and is likely to have a chip on his shoulder. Hickey is a handful with his overall speed and quickness, but he is somewhat undersized at 5-11. Hickey is a decent 3-point shooter and a very good defender, 30th in the country in steals % (1st in the SEC).
- Justin Hamilton is a big load for either Terrence Jones or Anthony Davis. At 7'0"/260#, he will create some problems for Kentucky on the interior, and intimidates a lot of shots.
- Johnny O'Bryant is Kentucky's answer to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He plays with a high motor, rebounds the basketball with power and strength and runs the floor like a deer. He may still feel the effects of his injury and hasn't played but 20 minutes in a long time, but expect him to be mostly back against Kentucky.
Key Matchups for LSU
- Anthony Davis. Despite their overall size, Davis is too quick and too long for LSU. They will likely put him on the line a lot, where he has been automatic lately.
- Marquis Teague. Teague is a matchup problem for Hickey because of his size and strength.
- Darius Miller. Miller is a matchup problem for everybody. There few players in the league on teams not named Kentucky with his combination of size, skill, and versatility.
LSU is very much better this year than they have been. Trent Johnson has done a good job of bringing in SEC-quality talent, and picking up some very good role players that other SEC teams didn't want or couldn't use. LSU now has a good combination of size, skill and talent, but they are still a year or two away from making a major impact on the league.
LSU doesn't play much zone normally, but they've had to do so a few times due to injuries and fouls. We may see some zone out of them if Kentucky is burning them up in man, but they are normally a man team and a very decent one. The Tigers do tend to put opposing teams on the line quite a bit, though, so you can expect them to be as physical as any team UK has faced all year.
One of the keys to a Tiger victory is for them to get a high percentage of offensive rebounds. 34% or better seems to be a bit of a magic number for them, as they are 10-4 when they get 34% or more OR's. Conversely, when they get less than 34%, they are 2-5.
To win this game, the main thing Kentucky must do is defensive rebound. If UK avoids allowing LSU to get offensive rebounds, the chances of LSU winning this game are vanishingly small. But LSU is tough to hold at bay on the offensive glass, especially with O'Bryant back, so Kentucky also needs to get good looks close to the rim and finish them off or get fouled.
This game, on paper, strongly favors the Wildcats, but as Kentucky found out at Indiana, it is unwise to take a moribund rival for granted, and there was a time when the rivalry between LSU and Kentucky in basketball burned as hot as a magnesium flare. With the talent LSU is bringing in right now, the rivalry may be trying to make a comeback.
Caution is advised for Kentucky, and sharp execution.