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Tennessee vs LSU Preview

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Here comes Ben Simmons, and plenty of points should follow.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Simmons gets the first word in any LSU conversation, and rightfully so:  the 6'10" freshman is averaging 19.3 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 5.1 assists in 34.8 minutes.  If Simmons is indeed the first overall pick in the NBA Draft, he will be the first non-Kentucky number one pick the Vols have faced since Derrick Rose in 2008, and the first in Knoxville since Shaquille O'Neal.

How the small ball Vols will guard him is complicated by the presence of 6'9" Craig Victor II, getting 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.  Do you put Armani Moore on Simmons and leave Kyle Alexander to deal with Victor alone?  Tennessee won't be able to swarm or over-rotate and leave Keith Hornsby on the perimeter, who's shooting 41.9% from the arc.  But the good news, if there's any, is LSU as a team shoots just 33.5% from deep, so they don't present as difficult of a match-up issue for Tennessee as Vanderbilt or Kentucky on paper.

But the Tigers will downright bang inside the arc:  first in the SEC and 16th nationally in two point field goal attempts made.  They rank 30th in Ken Pomerory's offensive ratings, playing the 37th fastest tempo in college basketball.  If you like points, LSU should hold up their end of the bargain today.

What can Tennessee do to match them?  The Tigers are the worst defensive team in the SEC by field goal percentage allowed, giving up 45.1% on average in league play.  It's not an anomaly:  they give up 44.2% on the year, 227th in the nation.  In SEC play the Tigers lead the league in two point field goal percentage and are last in the league in two point field goal percentage allowed.  The Tigers are also next to last in the SEC in fouls, which would certainly help Tennessee's offensive gameplan if that shows up today.

LSU lives and dies inside the arc.  Maybe Tennessee can take advantage of LSU inside the arc the way they couldn't against Kentucky, but if size is once again an issue in producing points the three ball will be especially important.  Tennessee's 31.8% from three in league play is uninspiring, but it does warm up to 36.1% in Thompson-Boling in conference games.  And then there's LSU penchant for close games:  after a 3-1 start in league play that included wins over Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Ole Miss by a combined 35 points, the Tigers are 6-3 with four of the six wins coming by five points or less, and the other two were against the bottom of the league from Mississippi State and Auburn.  The Tigers are coming off a seven point home loss to Alabama, which drove them back to 81 in RPI thanks to a lousy non-conference showing.  For LSU to get in the tournament they're going to have to find a road win to ease that number back up, which makes today a big opportunity for them.

Tennessee is 4-2 at home in league play and should be 5-1 if not for blowing a 10 point lead with four minutes to play against Texas A&M.  The wins over Florida, South Carolina, and Kentucky in Knoxville should provide confidence, and the opportunity for lots of points today should provide a spark.

5:30 PM, ESPNU.  Go Vols.