To pat myself on the back, I think the two words "Step Up" are a good choice to describe the game tonight between the 10th ranked Marquette Golden Eagles and the LSU Tigers. Marquette is clearly a step up from any team the Tigers have played so far this season, and LSU likely won't play anyone as good until Kentucky comes to town. The Eagles players have a great mix of overall talent, experience, size, shooting ability, while coach Buzz Williams is well on his way to being one of the next great Big East coaches.
For LSU, the words "Step Up" are simple enough. That's what LSU will need to do in order to have a chance to win this game. Andre Stringer is once again out for this game, as his medical condition hasn't changed over the last week. He is being held out of all physical activity for precautionary reasons. His shooting will be missed for this game, but LSU was able to get John Isaac back against UC Irvine.
In order to fully understand the magnitude of this game, LSU fans will need to understand where Marquette currently stands. They are undefeated at 10-0. The Eagles are coming off a Sweet 16 appearance, where they were ultimately defeated by North Carolina. They own perhaps the best road win of the young season with a win against Wisconsin in Madison. Prior to that, the Badgers won 23 straight home games. Although much weaker than last year, the Big East is still the best conference and Marquette is part of the reason it is. In Marquette's first game against an SEC foe, they won by 30 against Ole Miss. Right now, the Golden Eagles have a lot to be proud of.
I was surprised to see, however, that LSU is roughly a 7.5 to 8 point underdog in this game. In fact, that's somewhat shocking, considering how easily Marquette dominated a similar team in Ole Miss. Marquette can put up big scores too. In 5 of their 10 games so far, they eclipsed 90 points. They feature one of the best shooting guards in the country with Darius Johnson-Odom. "DJO", while being suspended for their previous game against Northern Colorado for a violation of team rules, has averaged nearly 19 points a game. Taking his place in that game was freshman Todd Mayo, who didn't miss a beat, and put up 22 points of his own against Northern Colorado.
The scoring options on the Golden Eagles team is staggering. Forward Jae Crowder has a 27 point game himself already and is averaging 17 points a game, while sophomore Vander Blue had a 26 point game and is averaging 11 a game.
Everything hasn't been perfect though. Marquette will be without senior Chris Otule, after he suffered a knee injury against Washington. It's a tough loss for the team to take, though on the court sophomore Davante Gardner has done a good job so far, scoring 14 points in both games since Otule was lost.
LSU will need the entire team to play well in order to have a chance to win. Against Marquette, open shots will need to be converted. 50/50 rebounds have to be picked up by the Tigers. Free throws can't be missed. Stuff that LSU has gotten away with so far this season will be exploited big time by the Eagles if they continue to happen.
Defensively, there's really not much that I think LSU can do. Marquette is able to score from 3 point range, in close, at the foul line, and everywhere in between. There's really no weak link for them on offense, except for perhaps the off shooting night. They tend not to have too many turnovers, while Junior Cadougan is a good facilitator and averages over 6 assists a game. He, like Johnson-Odom, was suspended previously for a game because of rules violations.
Trent Johnson has been quick to point out that defense is what essentially created the 4 game winning streak we are on. None of the four teams in that span has scored over 60 points. LSU's offense hasn't been all that great, but without Andre Stringer it's expected that it would slip some. Ralston Turner hasn't found his shooting touch yet, and until he does, when LSU doesn't have Stringer on the floor the offense will continue to be subpar.
The forwards have done a pretty good job, however, in that 4 game span on offense. Justin Hamilton and Eddie Ludwig led the way scoring against UC Irvine, while Warren and White also chipped in off the bench with good games against Boise State. Against UCI it was offensive rebounding that did the Anteaters in. Hamilton was out muscling the young team and kept them off balance for virtually the entire second half.
That's one spot where I think LSU can exploit Marquette and give themselves a great chance to win. Marquette is a very guard heavy team. Gardner, Crowder, and sophomore Jamil Wilson are essentially the only forwards the Golden Eagles will throw at LSU. If Hamilton, Warren, White, and O'Bryant can get them into foul trouble, it will be difficult for the shorter guards to defend them.
At the same time, that's also another area that can cause problems for LSU. Turnovers have been a problem, and many times it is when either the Tigers are being pressed, or trying to get the ball to move inside and out. The forwards have to expect double teams to come, and they have to take care of the ball. The guards, on the other hand, can't let the press that Marquette will use rattle them.
So what do I think will actually happen? I don't see the upset happening, unfortunately. I think LSU has shown some improvement in key areas, but today isn't the day for the breakthrough win that they need. What I think will happen is similar to what we saw towards the end of last year. LSU took leads against both Florida and Vanderbilt at home, but the superior teams played a full 40 minutes while LSU didn't. I think that's what we'll see today. LSU will hang tough and really threaten Marquette, but in the end the battle tested team will throw a counter punch that LSU won't recover from.
I like Vegas' choice in this one, Marquette by 8.
The game is on tonight at 8:00 CT on ESPN3. Cox Cable subscribers will have the Watch ESPN capability to watch the game on their computer.
In addition to ESPN3, the game may be on your local FSN channel. Because of the variations, I don't know if it is national or local for the game on TV.