Not going to lie: I'm still feeling pretty good about Saturday. But if you'd like to keep feeling good about beating Kentucky by 30 and not have all that momentum vanish in an instant, the Vols have to win tonight.
Last year two white hot Tennessee and LSU teams met in Baton Rouge, where the Vols scored a gritty overtime win. It was the next-to-last game of the regular season, setting the stage for a showdown with Vanderbilt in the season finale, and the Vols were able to ride that momentum and beat the Commodores, putting themselves firmly in the bubble conversation heading to championship week.
There's a little more distance between LSU and the end of the season this year, but the scenario is almost identical: in order for Tennessee's biggest remaining games to truly matter, the Vols cannot afford a slip up at home against the Tigers. We could have a chance to make some serious hay against Florida and Missouri, but for those wins to matter we have to be done losing otherwise.
It's been a weird year for LSU. The Tigers only lost twice in the non-conference, respectable road defeats at Boise State and at Marquette. Then they started 1-5 in league play, losing to Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky. But just when you think it's over, they win five of six, beating Missouri, Mississippi State twice, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina, their lone loss in this stretch at Alabama by three points. It leaves them, like us, at 6-6 in the league. They're not playing with the same potential we are thanks to a 139th ranked strength of schedule, leaving their 15-8 overall record with just a 105 RPI. However, their remaining schedule - at Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, at Missouri, at Texas A&M, and Ole Miss - allows for plenty of noise. Do they have the makings of being a good team, or have they just been hot against below average competition on the whole? We're about to find out.
The names, as they are for us, are familiar. Johnny O'Bryant III leads them in scoring and rebounding at 13.0/8.7. At 6'9" 262, he'll give Jarnell a run for his money. Stokes had his double-double streak broken by one of each on Saturday, but has still been on a monstrous pace these last three weeks. However, it'll be interesting to see if O'Bryant gives him some of the same trouble we saw him get into against better posts earlier in the year. This can be another important step of growth for the young fellow.
Anthony Hickey, Shavon Coleman, Andre Stringer and Charles Carmouche all average between 9.4 and 11.7 per night. LSU plays a faster but slightly less efficient pace than Tennessee; the Tigers hit the glass every bit as well as we do, even on the offensive end. It will be interesting to see if Cuonzo sticks with the four guard lineup that's brought us so much success recently. The biggest difference with us continues to be at the free throw line, which was a huge part of the UK victory. The Vols continue to lead the SEC and are 19th nationally in free throw rate. Continue to be the aggressor, don't settle for threes, and Tennessee can get where they want to go in part via the charity stripe.
The Vols are seven point favorites, but we'll all take a win by one or one hundred to keep this thing going. We've seen how dangerous Tennessee can be when Stokes, Golden, and McRae all play well. How much damage will we do tonight?
7:00 PM - ESPNU. Go Vols.