Both Kentucky and LSU have struggled to live up to their lofty preseason expectations, but they can end the regular season on a high note with an SEC crown.
UK enters this matchup tied for first place in SEC play with a chance to clinch a share of the regular-season title with a win over the visiting Tigers. Even with a loss, the Cats are safely in the NCAA Tournament likely as a 4/5 seed with the potential to rise to a 3 seed.
That's far from being the case for LSU, who needs this win to get back on the right side of the tournament bubble with just over a week until Selection Sunday. Most experts project the Tigers well on the outside looking in, but a win in a top-25 team's home court could propel them into the Big Dance.
A win over UK would also give LSU the chance for a share of the SEC crown if Texas A&M loses at home to Vanderbilt. Beating the Cats would also give the Tigers a double-bye in next week's SEC Tournament. UK has already clinched a double-bye thanks to South Carolina losing at home Thursday night.
If you watch college hoops, you know the story with LSU begins and ends with Ben Simmons. The do-it-all freshman forward will be the No. 1 pick in this year's NBA draft and is already poised for a $100+ million shoe deal. That's how special of a player he is, even if his team isn't that good.
Still, it's unheard of for a prospect like Simmons to be unable to even lead his team to one NCAA Tournament win, let alone missing the Big Dance altogether. Per FiveThirtyEight.com and ESPN's prospect rankings for collegiate players from 2001 through last season, 87% of the top-five prospects each year were on teams that made the NCAA Tournament, with about half going as far as the Elite Eight before losing.
Given that Simmons was once regarded as the best prospect since Lebron James, it would be quite aa fall if he can't lead his Tigers to either a win in Lexington or a run through the SEC Tournament to get into the Big Dance.
Simmons knows his Tigers are in trouble, and he's doing his best to carry them into tournament with five straight 20+ point games coming into Saturday. He leads LSU in scoring (19.7 ppg), boards (11.9) and assists (5.1), though he's also been a turnover machine late, averaging 5.75 turnovers per game over his last four contests. If Kentucky is going to win this game, containing Simmons and making other Tigers beat them will be critical.
Here is everything you'll need to watch and follow Kentucky take on LSU.
When: Saturday, March 5, 2014
Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, KY
Game Time: 2 p.m. ET
Online Stream: CBS Sports Online
Radio: UK Radio Network (Tom Leach, Mike Pratt)
Odds: Kentucky is a 13-point favorite, per Vegas Insider.
Series: Kentucky leads the all-time series against LSU by an 86-26 margin.
Projected LSU Starters
#55 G - Tim Quarterman, 6-6, 190 lbs, Jr.
#4 G - Keith Hornsby, 6-4, 208 lbs, Sr (dealing with hernia injury)
#15 G - Jalyn Patterson, 6-1, 185 lbs, So.
#4 G - Antonio Blakeney, 6-3, 218 lbs, Fr.
#25 F - Ben Simmons, 6-10, 240 lbs, Fr.
#32 F - Craig Victor II, 6-9, 235 lbs, So.
Projected UK Starters
#3 G - Tyler Ulis, 5-9, 160 lbs
#13 G - Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202 lbs
#23 G - Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207 lbs
#22 F - Alex Poythress, 6-8, 230 lbs
#00 F - Marcus Lee, 6-9, 224 lbs
Prediction: The Cats are poised to not only end their regular season on a high note, but clinch a fifth undefeated home record under John Calipari. it won't be easy though as a talented LSU squad needing this win just to remain in contention for an NCAA Tournament berth means UK will be in for a fight for 40 minutes.
However, the Cats have plenty to fight for with a higher seed in the Big Dance at stake, not to mention an SEC crown and the No. 1 or 2 seed in next week's conference tournament. Plus, these Cats have been consistently dominant at home this season, especially when Derek Willis has played as he's expected to return Saturday.
This is a game that see the Cats jump out to a big lead in the first half, but Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney have big games that keep the Tigers within striking distance before UK ultimately prevails.
Final Score: Kentucky 77, LSU 70