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Kentucky at LSU -- Adversary analysis

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Today at 1:00, the Kentucky Wildcats face off against the LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge.  Kentucky and LSU have had many epic struggles over the years, including surprising victories by both teams and the greatest comeback ever (the Mardi Gras Miracle).  Most of the lifelong highlights happened under former coach Dale Brown, but both teams have had their moments against each other during the Brady years as well.

Now, there is a new interim coach in Baton Rouge named Butch Pierre.  He was a former Brady assistant and took over after Brady was recently fired by LSU.  Since Pierre has taken the helm, the Bayou Bengals have been playing much better basketball, nearly defeating highly ranked Tennessee and sending the Florida Gators home with an "L".  LSU by no means qualifies as a hot team, winning only two of their last 12 games.

For more about LSU from a blogger's perspective, please visit our SBNation brothers at And The Valley Shook.

Personnel:

The top contributors for the Bayou Bengals are as follows:


Per Game Averages
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M. Thornton Jr G 23 23 43 36.7 83.3 34.3 19.5 5.8 1.3 2.3 1.5 0.3
G. Temple Jr G 23 21 42.7 32.1 78.2 34.1 6.7 4 3.6 2.4 1.2 0.8
A. Randolph Fr F 23 23 46.1 12.5 65.5 31.9 14.1 8.4 1.4 2.8 1.2 2.4
T. Martin Jr G 23 16 35.2 29.3 72.2 25.9 8.6 2.7 1.7 1.7 0.3 0.4
B. Spencer Fr G 23 3 34.1 31.5 72.7 17 4 1.3 1.6 1.1 0.5 0
A. Farrer So G 19 6 41.3 23.8 62.5 15.6 2.8 1.5 1.2 0.9 0.6 0
G. Green Fr F 18 1 46.2 66.7 42.9 11.6 2.3 1.9 0.2 0.6 0.1 0.2
C. Johnson Jr
C
17
14
59.1
34.5
91.4
28.1
12
4.9
0.6
2.4
0.9
2.2

LSU is long, lean and athletic with the emphasis on the long and lean.  The Tigers are a fairly young team, and one of their best returning players, Tasmin Mitchell, is out for the year with a severe ankle injury.   The Tigers start three juniors, a sophomore and a freshman, but what a freshman.  Anthony Randolph was the Patrick Patterson of LSU's recruiting class, a slender 6'10" combo forward who can score, rebound and block shots.  Like Patterson, Randolph is mostly an inside threat.  The match up between him and Kentucky's two big forwards is intriguing.  It is a rare situation in that Perry Stevenson can also match up with him, as both men are about the same size.  But Randolph is a somewhat more polished player than Perry, so we'll just have to see how that works out.  Patterson is much biggers and stronger than any of the Tigers' big men.

The Tigers are taller at every position than Kentucky, but the Cats are stronger and more massive.  The two teams are a very interesting matchup on paper, with neither team having a significant advantage in either talent or size.

Offense:

LSU is mostly a half-court team, although they like to push the pace more than Kentucky does.  LSU isn't a particularly good three point shooting team, so you wouldn't expect them to launch a lot from the outside.  They have mobile and athletic big men in Randolph and Chris Johnson, and some excellent slashers in Garett Temple and Marcus Thornton.

Athleticism is LSU's stock in trade, and they will attack the rim.  They are a good free throw shooting team, and that bodes ill for Kentucky, who tends to foul a lot.  LSU has been playing with the same kind of guts and heart lately that the Cats were prior to our most recent game, and we can expect them to try to take the game to us.  They actually have more quality depth than we do, although much of it is very young and raw.

With all that said, LSU is not a skilled offensive team.  They tend to take bad shots and don't pass or handle the ball very well.  They can really be effective inside, but they don't do a great job of getting the ball to their big people.  LSU is capable, but their youth and inexperience hurts their offense.  Where LSU can definitely hurt Kentucky is in the open floor, as they have a number of players who can really finish and run the floor.  In the half court, Kentucky should have a decided advantage.

Defense:

Defensively, the Bayou Bengals have been much better in their last two games, holding Tennessee to only 47 points in a defensive struggle, then proving they can play up-tempo by outscoring Florida 85-73.  The more impressive effort by far was the one against Tennessee, because they did exactly what you have to do to beat the Vols -- slow down the game and force the Volunteers to beat you in the half court.  But when Florida came in with it's "We'll outscore you" offense and matador defense, they found that the young Tigers run the court like gazelles, and suffered the consequences.

LSU has good shot blocking and adequate rebounding, although their defensive intensity is nothing like what we saw this past Tuesday, or what the Cats have put out up until then.  LSU's athleticism has been their best weapon, and they have two guys who get over two blocked shots per game.  LSU also plays good 3-point defense, although they will allow easier post entries than a team like Vanderbilt.

Intangibles and injuries:

Kentucky and LSU are both hit with injuries, Kentucky with Jodie Meeks and LSU with Tasmin Mitchell.  But Kentucky is probably the healthier of the two right now, and Jodie Meeks is said to be much improved over the last few days.  LSU is playing at home with a crowd of Tiger fans who suddenly see a reason to cheer.  Advantage -- LSU.

Kentucky wins if:

  1. They stop turning the ball over so much.
  2. Patterson is productive.
  3. Kentucky gets back to lock-down defense.
  4. Stevenson and Harris contribute on both ends.
  5. The tempo is low.

LSU wins if:

  1. They force our guards away from the basket like Vanderbilt did.
  2. They frustrate and anger Patterson.
  3. Anthony Randolph has a big game.
  4. They get to the line a lot.
  5. They get the tempo up into the 70's.

Bottom line:

LSU is a very mercurial team.  They are talented, but lack leadership and experience.  LSU can beat anyone in the league on a given night, or they can lose by lopsided margins.  They are like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates -- you never know what you are going to get.  Anthony Randolph is a blue-chip freshman who is capable of doing many wonderful things for the Tigers, and he has help in the rest of the team.  If LSU passed the ball better, they would not be bringing up the rear in the West.

For the Wildcats, this is gut check time.  This is a game Kentucky should win, and after the thumping at Vandy, really needs to.  An ordinary effort probably won't get it done in Baton Rouge, as it is an SEC road game and we all know how those are.  There will be a good crowd on hand with the Tigers suddenly competitive, and they used to call Pete Maravich Center the "Deaf Dome" for a reason.

This is a critical game for Kentucky and any hopes they may still entertain for playing in the post season.  The Cats have already used up eight of their nine lives, and this game could put them in the post-season grave.  It will take a strong effort by Kentucky in order to prevent Vanderbilt from beating them twice in one game.  This is a test of character and fortitude, and here's hoping the Wildcats rise to the occasion.