Will Wade has his team playing at a much higher level than expected. The Tigers are ranked No. 21 in the country and are clearly in the top tier of the SEC. LSU’s only conference loss was against the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Sophomore guard Tremont Waters leads the Tigers in scoring with 15.7 points per game, including 23.3 over the last four games. His match-up with Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans is one of the most anticipated battles of the conference season.
The Wildcats have won ten straight games, nine of which have come in SEC play. Coming off of a narrow win at Mississippi State, the Wildcats had better be wary of looking ahead to Saturday’s top-5 match-up with Tennessee.
The staff at A Sea of Blue have convened at the roundtable to discuss the match-up and give their picks for the game.
Some are calling this a trap game for the Wildcats, but LSU is far too good of a team to meet the definition of a trap opponent. LSU has legitimate stars that were top recruits coming into college, and they will come to Rupp Arena on Tuesday with something to prove.
Kentucky and LSU play completely different styles. Whereas Kentucky has been winning with defense, LSU has focused on simply outscoring opponents. Kentucky has held six SEC opponents to under 65 points, whereas the Tigers have only done so once. The Wildcats have only given up 80 points one time during conference player, and LSU has done so five times.
In Rupp Arena, I expect a great atmosphere for a Tuesday game and I anticipate that the Wildcats will be ready for the challenge. I see the defense stepping up, and even if Tremont Waters is able to put up some points the rest of the Tigers will be held in check.
Prediction: Kentucky 73, LSU 63
After stretching their winning streak to ten games in Starkville, the Kentucky Wildcats will look to extend it to eleven with a big match-up against the LSU Tigers. With a flashy starting point guard and great recruits making an impact, Kentucky will have to step up again defensively to take hold of the #2 seed in the conference.
The Wildcats nearly stumbled at Mississippi State when the Bulldogs cut an eighteen point Wildcat lead to one with enough time to make a move. The Wildcats responded with great defense, another big shot from Tyler Herro and smart, conservative play from big men who were in foul trouble.
Tremont Waters and Naz Reid are the dynamic duo powering the Tigers to be one of the best teams in the conference. It will take a defensive effort by committee from the whole team to slow down Waters, who’s averaging 15.7 points and 6.1 assists per game. Naz Reid, averaging 13.9 points and 6.2 rebounds, is a skilled big that was joined by Javonte Smart and Emmitt Williams to highlight a strong recruiting class by the Tigers.
Defense will have to win this game for Kentucky as the Tigers are averaging 83.3 points per game. If Kentucky can neutralize Reid and Waters and keep the Tigers explosive momentum plays quiet, they should be able to get another big win. In a game where the #2 seed is on the line, I believe Kentucky will make its mark and beat the Tigers in time for their huge matchup against Tennessee next Saturday where the #1 seed could begin to be up for grabs.
Prediction: Kentucky 78, LSU 70
I think this is a difficult match-up for the Cats. LSU is a very athletic ball club. Will Wade has done a great job rebuilding the program resulting in them being in and out of the Top 25 all season long. They remind me of Alabama in their makeup and style.
That said, I think the Cats will be ready to go after a tighter than needed victory over Mississippi State on the road. I think once again the Cats size and athleticism as well as how well the Cats are defending make the difference.
Prediction: Kentucky 82, LSU 71
This isn’t your typical Kentucky-LSU basketball game. Both teams are ranked and tied for second place in the SEC. The Cats need to be prepared for a battle.
Will Wade’s squad is one of the most talented in the SEC. Bringing in a top-five recruiting class to go along with several talented returners pays big dividends. And the Tigers are reaping the rewards from it. LSU has four former five-star prospects on this team and they have multiple veterans to pair with their star freshmen. This team is the real deal.
The TIgers are led by sophomore Tremont Waters, who is averaging 15.7 points, 6.1 assists, and 3.0 steals per game. The savvy point guard is small (5-11), but he does an excellent job of creating his own shot. He can take defenders off the dribble or hit a three from anywhere on the court. In addition, he’s constantly in the passing lanes. He ranks first in the SEC in steals per game. This will be a tough match-up for Ashton Hagans on both ends of the court, but probably the most important.
Naz Reid is a big freshman forward, who can stretch the defense to the three-point line or bully opponents in the paint. He’s shooting nearly 37% from three and averaging 13.9 ppg and 6.2 rpg. This guy is a future lottery pick, so Reid Travis needs to be ready to go to war.
Skylar Mays is a veteran guard that can score in bunches. Kavell Bigby-Williams and Emmitt Williams are solid threats in the paint. And Marlon Taylor is a freak athlete that’s never afraid to try and dunk on someone’s head.
Finally, Ja’vonte Smart will be very important for Kentucky on Tuesday. Smart loves to shoot, but he’s extremely inefficient. The more shots he takes, the better for UK because it limits touches for the rest of this talented Tigers roster.
The biggest key to winning this game is crashing the boards. LSU is the best team in the SEC at hitting the offensive glass, so Kentucky is going to need to clean up after forcing missed shots. The Tigers live off second-chance points, so if UK is able to limit those opportunities, then they should be able to win handily.
LSU rotates four very talented big men, just like Kentucky, so the Cats won’t be able to wear them down like they do against other teams. However, LSU’s biggest flaw is their defense. They really have a tough time defending, so Kentucky should be able to score with ease.
I’m confident Reid Travis, PJ Washington, EJ Montgomery, and Nick Richards will do enough to limit LSU’s second chances. And I’m confident the Cats will score a lot of points in a big time win that puts Kentucky in sole possession of second place in the SEC.
Prediction: Kentucky 83, LSU 69
The Kentucky Wildcats return to Rupp Arena on Tuesday riding a 10-game winning streak. The LSU Tigers, who’ve won 4 of their last 5, come to Lexington looking to knock off the Cats. While LSU has played well of late, I just don’t see it happening.
PJ Washington is playing on another level right now. What we’ve seen from Washington is what every single member of Big Blue Nation expected to see when PJ announced his return. Aside from a poor rebounding performance against Mississippi State last week, Washington has been scoring the ball at will and has been a monster on the boards. Coach Cal keeps calling Washington the best player in college basketball, and while that’s debatable, if PJ continues to play at this level, he’s definitely in the conversation.
LSU can score, as the Tigers average 83.3 points per game. However, the Cats can sure as heck guard, as they’re limiting opponents to 65.2 points per game. It all comes down to defense for the Cats. IF UK can limit LSU’s three-point shooting, they’ll win the game. I think it’ll be closer than most folks think, but I believe that the Cats run their win streak to 11.
Prediction: Kentucky 77, LSU 70