It looks like 2012 could start off with a bang for the LSU Tigers basketball team, as they welcome the 23rd ranked Virginia Cavaliers to Baton Rouge for each team's final non conference game. For the Virginia Cavaliers, the 2011 portion of the 2011/2012 basketball season has gone very well. The Cavs will be coming into the game against LSU with a shiny 12-1 record that features a stand out win over Michigan.
The story of the Cavaliers season starts, of course, with senior leading scorer and rebounder Mike Scott. Scott has been playing at an All-American pace through the first half of the season, averaging over 16 points a game and 9 rebounds a game. He shoots the ball very well from virtually everywhere on the court despite being a 6'8" forward.
As for LSU, the Tigers are coming off a relatively easy 32 point win over Grambling State on Thursday and are looking to put a bow on their gift to LSU basketball fans. Not many could have seen their impressive start coming, and a win over a second ranked team at home would definitely be a fitting end to the non conference portion of the schedule.
There's really not too much to take away from the win against Grambling. The talent differential is so different that I compared the game to a scrimmage and at times that's what it seemed like. I doubt Andrew Del Piero will be getting 7 minutes of playing time in a game the rest of this season.
Two good things can be taken away from the game, however. First, Justin Hamilton might be the most consistent player LSU has had in the past 3 years. Every game he seems to show up, grab his quota of rebounds, score his points, and do it all very efficiently. Against Grambling it was no different. His toughest test of the season will be against UVA, however, so we will learn a lot more about Hamilton tonight.
The other good thing I took away from the game was simply the bench, once again, had a lot of good minutes. It's been something that has been missing the last two seasons, but LSU finally has a bench that is both talented and capable of production. Chris Bass has continued to be a glue guy and leader for the guards, while Jalen Courtney had a hot shooting night to lead the Tigers with 14 points.
Of course, this leads me to the bad, which is the continued absence of Andre Stringer. He's taking steps in the right direction according to LSU, so it's possible that we might see him in some action tonight. I don't necessarily think LSU will need him just because the bench has done such a fine job without him, but having him back will just add to the depth. Fingers need to be crossed that he can come back and maintain the level of play he had before the injury/sickness.
Against Virginia tonight, LSU will get a game against the toughest defensive team they will play in the non conference. UVA has very similar scoring scenarios during their 10 game winning streak. Only one team has scored more than 60 points against the Cavs, though it was in a win. That stat is nearly identical to the one we hear about LSU and their record of doing the same during their 7 game winning streak.
Truth be told, LSU has played a much more difficult schedule than UVA has to this point. Michigan is really the only game of substance on the UVA schedule, though they have gone on the road for a couple of games against Oregon and Seattle. They escaped with a close win against Seattle, while Oregon was beaten pretty easily. The Tigers, however, haven't been afraid to go on the road yet, and even did what the UF Gators couldn't do and win at Rutgers.
What to look for tonight: Battle of the Forwards
Mike Scott is a warrior, plain and simple. LSU hasn't gone against anyone as good as he is yet, and they will need Malcolm White and Storm Warren to help out against him. I seriously doubt that Johnny O'Bryant will be able to guard him, and it will be dependent on our seniors to contain him as best they can. They cannot get into foul trouble, which we all know is something that the LSU forwards seem to do pretty well. Scott is a 5th year senior and he knows this.
Offensively, LSU has looked a little bit better since Turner has began to shoot it better. Anthony Hickey is still having trouble scoring consistently, and I don't think that will change much until he can develop a better jump shot. I would expect much of his scoring to come in the lane on the floaters, or short range jump shots. On the flip side for LSU, getting Scott into foul trouble would make life so much easier on the offensive end of the floor as well.
LSU comes into the game as 3 point underdogs, which is a little bit surprising given how well we've played and that the game is at home. The over/under is set at only 113 which is basically saying that there won't be much scoring.
This game will come down to foul shooting, which is one area that UVA is very good at. Their leading 4 scorers all shoot it at 80% or better from the free throw line. Surprisingly, LSU still has 4 shooters of their own that can say the same, while Hamilton is just under that mark at 78.8%.
The other area that the game will be decided is on defense, particularly staying out of foul trouble, and getting steals and blocks. LSU has a slight edge in both of those categories, while having slightly more depth than UVA on their bench.
In the end, I think with such evenly matched teams that if I'm betting I take LSU and the points because I think only a point or two will decide it either way, and that LSU pulls out a 1 point win to head into SEC play having won 8 in a row.
Tipoff is set for 6:00 CT and will be on Cox4 for the locals. The game will also be on ESPN3 without blackout restrictions, at least it doesn't show any right now.
PodKATT: In certain areas of the Southeast I'm told the game will be live on the Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast. The game will also have a Tape Delay Broadcast on Cox Sports after the Hornets game.
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