Tennessee narrowly improved to 1-1 on Wednesday night, grabbing an overtime win against a hot-shooting but shorthanded Ole Miss squad. On Saturday, they’ll hit the road for another huge SEC test.
No. 21 LSU will host No. 18 Tennessee on Saturday evening, looking for their second big win of the week. The Tigers already knocked off Kentucky on Wednesday, bouncing back from their first loss of the season which came at the hands of Auburn.
The Tennessee-LSU matchup will see KenPom’s No. 1 and No. 2 ranked defenses square off, in what should be a true rock fight. In the metric overall, LSU ranks 11th, while Tennessee checks in at 14th. Will Wade’s team is 13-1, but entered conference play largely untested. That immediately changed in conference play, and the Tigers have gone 1-1 to start.
With the SEC regular season crown as the ultimate goal for each, this is a pivotal early season matchup for both as the loser will fall to 1-2 in league play.
“I think you look at them, they rebound, they run,” Rick Barnes said of LSU. “They are going to shoot it. I think they play unselfish together, I do. I think Will has got a team he really likes because of the effort they are giving him on both ends.”
It’s a different looking LSU team than we’re used to seeing. The Tigers are led by sophomore forward Tari Eason, who transferred in from Cincinnati during the offseason. He currently averages over 15 points per game. LSU also picked up veteran point guard Xavier Pinson from Missouri. Veteran forward Darius Days is the second-leading scorer on the team, averaging 14 points per contest.
“They switch almost one through five,” Barnes said of LSU’s elite defense. “They’re willing to do that. They’re very aggressive in terms of attacking the ball.”
“The key to any game, when you’re playing against a really outstanding defensive team, you have to take care of the basketball. You’ve got to get (shot) attempts. You’ve got to hope you can get yourself to the foul line. You’ve got, again, make them work and not let them have it, knowing that they’re going to be very aggressive in terms of trying to come get the ball. They’re always swiping at it, digging at it, trying to break it away. So you’ve got to be strong with the ball.”
LSU gives up just 0.675 points per possession, which is the best mark in the country. They also rank second in steals per game, to Barnes’ point. We’ve seen Tennessee struggle offensively lately, and Saturday’s matchup will offer no breaks.
“Where we know we should know where our shots are coming from,” Barnes said of his offense. “We should know what we need to do to get in position to get those shots, to be in a position to go rebound it. But if you go back, it’s just being inconsistent with the details throughout the game. It shouldn’t ever be like that at the start. The way we started that (Ole Miss) game, the three turnovers we had, no way should that happen at this point in time, this time of year.”
Tennessee and LSU are set for a 5 p.m. tip-off in Baton Rouge on Saturday. ESPN2 will have the coverage.