Kentucky is set to continue their conference play by traveling down to Baton Rouge to take on the 21st ranked LSU Tigers. This will be our second true road game of the season, the first being Notre Dame, and our second ranked opponent of the season, the first being Duke. We have dropped both of those games against Notre Dame and Duke, so this matchup is crucial for mid-season resume building.
One of our captains, Davion Mintz, recognizes the significance of this game. "Another statement game... just to go somewhere and win and prove that we can bounce back on the road, that would be big for us."
And it won't come easy. Many had written off LSU once they lost Illinois transfer guard Adam Miller to a season ending injury, but LSU started off red hot with a perfect 12-0 non-conference record.
LSU is lead by Mizzou transfer guard Xavier Pinson, Cincinnati transfer forward Tari Eason, returning forward Darius Days, and 5 star big man Efton Reid.
Xavier Pinson is their lead guard and primary ball handler, leading the team in both assists (4.5) and steals (2.1). He's a drive first point guard who is very good at getting to the line and converting on his free throws. We saw him last season at Mizzou put up 14 points, 4 assists, and 3 steals in a win over our Cats. Our guards will have to do their best to keep their feet in front of him, while our bigs needs to contest his shots without fouling. Eric Gaines will also see a lot of ball handling responsibilities alongside Pinson.
Tari Eason has been on the best surprises for LSU this season. He currently leads the team in points (15.8) and blocks (1.4), despite coming off of the bench in every game he has played. He does a majority of his offensive damage in the low post, but also runs the floor very well and can step out to take the occasional three pointer as well.
The captain of the team, senior Darius Days, has been one of the most consistently productive players for LSU this season. He is second in the team in points (14.7) and first in rebounds (8.0). He is also one of the most versatile players in the country as he is 6'7" and 245 lbs, yet leads the team with 6.8 three point attempts per game, converting on an efficient 36.4% of them. We can see him play either the 3, where his size will provide a big mismatch, or the 4, where he can effectively space the court for Pinson to get to the hoop, or one of their bigs to work in the low post.
5 star center Efton Reid can be the X-factor for LSU on any given night. His size as a true 7 footer, along with a modern big skillset, makes for what could be a very difficult matchup on both ends of the floor. However, he often struggles to stay on the court as he averages 5.9 fouls per 40 minutes. LSU does not have another rotation player over 6'8", so if the Cats can get Reid in foul trouble early, Oscar can see another huge day on the boards.
As a team, LSU is great defensively. They only allow their opponents to score 55.3 points per game on 34.5% shooting, while forcing 19.6 turnovers per game. Their defense almost always switches everything, making it very difficult for shooters to come off of screens or guards to work in the pick and roll. Their defense switching also does not create many mismatches for the offense because their guards possess good length, and their forwards have little difficulty playing out on the perimeter.
To win on the road, Kentucky is going to have to win the turnover battle. LSU's offense is most efficient in the fast break, but can struggle in the half court. If we do not give them extra possessions and force them to run their offense in the half court, LSU will most likely struggle to score.
Kentucky will also have to shoot the three ball at a respectable clip. Our first road loss against Notre Dame can be primarily attributed to our 2/19 shooting from behind the three point line. I do not think we need to be the 2017 Warriors from deep, but at least 6 three pointers will be needed to come away with the tough road victory.
I personally have Kentucky leaving Baton Rouge with a 77-67 victory, seeing yet again very impressive performances from transfers Oscar Tshiebwe and Kellan Grady.