After a thrilling win over the #10 Marquette Golden Eagles, LSU heads back on the road looking to extend their winning streak to 6 games against the North Texas Mean Green. You may recall last year, in Baton Rouge, when LSU and UNT met, it was a 20 point blow out for the Mean Green. Truth be told, however, North Texas wasn't that bad of a team last year. As you will see in the video below, they were only seconds away from going to the NCAA tournament.
Arkansas Little Rock game winning 3 (via Halographix)
Both teams, however, are different teams than last year. As we have seen from the Tigers, they are improved. They still suffered a couple of questionable losses, but also have gone out and won some games they weren't supposed to either. It seems like in every game, there's someone different that steps up. A couple of times this year it has been Anthony Hickey. Johnny O'Bryant led the Tigers in the Northwestern game. Justin Hamilton did so through the first 4 games of this streak, and it was Ralston Turner's turn against Marquette.
LSU fans, however, should and will continue to question which direction the LSU program is heading. It looked like it was heading south in a hurry after the South Alabama game. Now it looks like LSU has a legitimate chance at making the NCAA tournament. The numbers, in fact, don't lie.
LSU is currently 51st in the RPI, which gives them a very reasonable case to be considered among the bubble teams. Their strength of schedule is 57th, and both of those numbers will increase once LSU plays against once beaten and AP ranked Virginia. LSU has played quite a few road game as well as neutral site games, and the committee will reward teams for winning road games, which LSU has done already against Rutgers and has a chance to do tonight against North Texas.
Of course, there's still plenty of time for LSU to play themselves off the bubble in either direction. Going into the season I didn't think there was a chance that the non-conference schedule could help LSU. Now it is looking to be something that the Tigers can be proud of. There's 3 games remaining in the non-conference. First up, the North Texas Mean Green.
North Texas comes into the game with a 6-5 record. It's a winning record, but it's clearly an inflated record, with wins over two non D1A teams, two SWAC teams with a combined record of 2-18, and two other non-BCS teams. UNT has played some of the "big boys", but even so I would argue LSU is more of a "big boy" than either Texas or Texas Tech is right now. Even so, UNT hasn't lost at home, so they will have a streak of their own to defend.
UNT does have a slightly different team from earlier in the season, however. North Texas will have a big time recruit on their roster, Tony Mitchell. Mitchell sat out quite a bit of time thus far in his career, but at the time of his recruitment, he was ranked at #24 by Dave Telep at ESPN and a 4 star recruit. High school transcript and transferring from Missouri led to lots of time sitting out, but with the end of the fall 2011 semester, he is now eligible and ready to play. Since coming back, in two games he is averaging 12 points and 9 rebounds.
LSU, however, will be a much tougher test for Mitchell. The Tigers have a highly rated player of their own with Johnny O'Bryant. JOB, however, is coming off of his worst game at LSU thus far. He had zero points, only 3 rebounds, and 3 turnovers against Marquette. I would argue that his turnover total probably could have been higher, since I think one of them was an exchange that went bad with Isaac that resulted in an out of bounds turnover. It seemed like every time he had the ball, LSU was running back to the other end to prevent a lay up.
This needs to be a bounce back game for JOB. Storm Warren had another monster game for LSU against Marquette. Although bringing Warren in off the bench has been a blessing for LSU so far, you can't continue to have Johnny starting games if he is going to play poorly. Now that I've mentioned Warren, I can mention his dunk from the other night.
Storm Warren ridiculous follow dunk (via ESPN)
What to look for tonight: Well, not much if you don't have the Geaux Zone. The game isn't scheduled to be on TV in the Baton Rouge area, or anywhere other than North Texas. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 CT, and if you are still interested in seeing how the Tigers follow up the only way to do so is with the Geaux Zone or listening on the radio.
As with the other games that LSU has played on the road, I think LSU should feel somewhat threatened by UNT. LSU hasn't played the most beautiful games on the road, instead using suffocating defense to beat Houston and Rutgers. The offense still hasn't been all that crisp with Stringer sitting out, and tonight will be his 4th straight game being out with an undiagnosed medical condition.
North Texas has a big team, so LSU won't have it as easy for the forwards as they did against Marquette. UNT isn't a very good shooting team, only shooting 3's at 26% thus far and field goals at 40%. North Texas is, however, a deep team, and that can cause problems if they decide to use an aggressive press with lots of rested players. Minutes are spread out quite evenly between 12 different players on UNT.
Thus far, freshman Chris Jones is the Mean Green's best scoring option. At 15 points per game, the next closest is Mitchell at 12 a game, though he has only played two so far. Jones does most of his damage at the free throw line, where he shoots 85%. LSU will need to keep the guards out of foul trouble, and instead force Jones into bad shots and turnovers(3.8/game).
LSU needs to simply keep doing what they do. They are getting lots of contributions from everyone, and that now includes Turner after his 22 point breakout against Marquette. I think that he will continue to be the key player for LSU if the Tigers hope to end the rest of the non-conference schedule without a loss. Hamilton should continue to anchor the inside. Getting to the line should be Hamilton's goal tonight, as he finished off the end of last game going 7-8 from the stripe.
LSU comes into the game as 3.5 to 4 point favorites. Money is moving big time to UNT, as the game opened -7 LSU. It's not surprising, though, since this has the makings of a trap game for LSU. Road game, right before Christmas, and LSU is the best team on UNT's schedule. LSU can't celebrate the win against Marquette forever, they need to get back to work. I think they do, led by their seniors, and win by more than the spread.