1. Backcourt duo
You don’t have to look deep into the scouting report for the LSU Tigers without seeing the dynamic backcourt duo consisting of Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart. Starting with the best player on the roster for LSU, 6’4″ senior guard Skylar Mays averages 16.5 points per game, which is good for 7th in the conference. He also gives 4.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 2 steals, tied with Ashton Hagans for second most the SEC. Javonte Smart stands at 6’4″ as well and the sophomore averages 12.5 points, 4.2 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game. The two players are constantly in attack mode, meaning that Kentucky is going to need big nights out of the on-ball defenders Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey.
The two scoring guards for Will Wade can score at the rim when driving downhill, but can also fill it up from deep as well. Mays shoots 37.4% from three and 85% from the free throw line, while Smart hits 31.5% from three and 82% from the free throw line. The two have combined for eight games this season hitting four or more threes in a game. Last year, these two guards combined for 19 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals in LSU’s win at Rupp. Fortunately for Kentucky, the splits for these two players show they are much more lethal on the road than at home, which John Calipari has to be hoping continues into tonight.
2. Intentionally lacking in size
When you look down the roster for Will Wade’s LSU team, you see that there isn’t an overwhelming amount of size for a Power-5 Conference team. Zero players listed above 6’9″, and only three players listed above 6’6″, it would seem that the Tigers should be a team that struggles to defend and score in the paint. In reality, LSU is one of the best teams in the country at scoring inside the three-point line. Will Wade’s roster being set up the way it stands is almost fully intentional, as his players fit his style. His bigger guys can all handle the ball on the perimeter and will knock down jumpers, and his smaller guys can all get to the rim to score.
With LSU ranking 8th in the country in two-point field goal percentage, this is the type of game that a player like Nate Sestina could struggle if he continually gets caught trying to defend a player who is driving downhill. We saw this in several games this year already, so it will be interesting to see how John Calipari utilizes his two bench bigs, Sestina and Keion Brooks, against a team like LSU. The only time the lack of size seems to cause a problem for LSU is preventing offensive rebounds. Despite being one of the better offensive and defensive rebounding teams in the conference, the Tigers do give up almost 10 offensive rebounds per game, which is ranked nearly 300th in the country.
3. Defensive woes
While LSU can certainly score the ball, averaging 80.8 points per game, good for second in the Southeastern Conference and sixth in the nation, they don’t necessarily stop other teams from scoring. The Tigers’ 72.7 points allowed per game ranks them 258th in the country. Compare that to Kentucky’s numbers of 75.1 points per game being fifth in the conference and 52nd in the country, while the Cats have a much better defense, allowing just 65.5 points per game, third in the SEC.
The Tigers rank 148th in the country in steals per game and 236th in turnovers forced per contest. LSU tends to pack it in and force their opponents to shoot threes, which hasn’t exactly worked out in their favor. Ranking 243rd nationally in three-point percentage defense, the Tigers allow their opponents to attempt nearly 27 threes per game which is 348th out of 353 total teams. A lot of attempts from the opponent typically equals a lot of makes, and here is no different. LSU gives up just over 9 threes made per game, 343rd in the country. Even if the Cats start with a few misses from deep in tonight’s game, expect them to keep shooting, because the shots will be open.
4. Home is where the wins are
The schedule as of late has not been kind to Will Wade and LSU. The Tigers have lost three of their last four games, all coming by single digits, and were a big second-half comeback against Missouri away from losing all four. The recent skid has brought the overall record for LSU to 18-7 and has dropped them from having a two-game lead at the top of the SEC to being tied for second place. LSU has really struggled to defend in that stretch, as they are giving up 89 points per game over the last four games. Three of those games were on the road, with the one win over Missouri coming within the friendly confines of Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Putting it simply, you could say that the Tigers were winning all of their close games early in the season, and haven’t been as of late. LSU went through a stretch earlier in conference play where they won six straight games, but no wins game by more than four points.When you take a deeper dive into the schedule for LSU, you can see that they’ve struggled in two instances. One being games against Quadrant-1 teams, and the other being games played away from home. In Quad-1 games this season, the Tigers sit at just 2-5, with an overall record of 16-2 in games against the lesser three quadrants. Likewise, in Baton Rouge, LSU is 13-1 on the year, as six of their seven losses have come on the road or on a neutral floor for a 5-6 record away from home.
5. Balanced attack
The strength for this LSU team lies on the shoulders of the starting five. Every starter for Will Wade’s squad averages 11.8 or more points per game, with the top five averaging 16.5, 13.9, 13.9, 12.5, and 11.8. For reference, Kentucky has just four players averaging double figures with a sharp decline after the top four. That is what makes LSU especially difficult to defend, in that any player can be a scoring threat at all times. The Tigers’ leading scorer, Skylar Mays, has only actually led the team in scoring in seven of the 25 games so far this season. In total, the Tigers have had six different players lead the team in single game scoring at some point this season.
The balanced effort doesn’t just stop at scoring, as it effects other aspects of the LSU game as well. The Tigers have three players averaging more than 7 rebounds per game, with two more players over 4 rebounds per game. Six different players have led the team in single game rebounding this season. On the flip side, due to every player handling the ball, LSU has four players averaging two or more turnovers per game.
Go Cats. Beat Tigers.