Kentucky being #1, that happens quite often. Beating Kentucky when they are #1. That doesn't happen quite so much. At least not when they play against the LSU Tigers. Despite meeting the 'Cats 7 times when they were ranked #1, LSU has only defeated them once, in 1978. Since then, LSU has matched up against other #1 teams, and beaten a few, but Kentucky is by far the leading team in that category. Somewhat strangely, that 1978 meeting was the last time Kentucky played against LSU while #1.
It could be a big day for LSU if the Tigers are able to make history once again and score an upset over the 20-1 (6-0) team from Lexington. As with most games against a #1 team, it often feels like it will take a miracle to beat them because of the talent difference, opposing coach, or the aura that they carry when they play.
Here's what you need to know about Kentucky and how LSU might match up against them. Anthony Davis is the best overall player on the team, that is essentially 7 deep. He's perhaps the best shot blocker the college game has had in a long time, perhaps ever. His offensive game isn't quite as good, but nonetheless he will be a top 5 pick in the draft this summer.
I'll start with Anthony Davis, who is the best player on the team. He's a really good spot shooter that usually doesn't miss when he's wide open. At times he can get out of control and try to do too much, but that's the only knock I really see on his game. He's a good free throw shooter and can get out on the break like most Calipari recruits.
Terrence Jones is the "power forward" and I put that in quotes for a reason. The reason I say that is because, quite frankly, this year he hasn't played like it. His game hasn't necessarily regressed, but his attitude hasn't been great and he's gotten sort of lazy. He's willing to settle for shots from the outside more than rebounding and getting fouled down low. At times he's seemed disinterested, and even looked like he would foul on purpose to sit on the bench.
As I say all that, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the opposite. He's a small forward in terms of height, yet plays with the passion and reckless abandon as a power forward. He's a great slasher and rebounder, always hustling, and always diving for loose balls. He's slowly crept up in the Naismith standings as player of the year because, at times, it seems like he's the only player Kentucky has willing to give it 100% all the time.
After that, it comes down to Marquis Teague to round out the starting line up. In my opinion, he's the worst guard(so far) of the Calipari fivesome, Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall and Brandon Knight. Quite frankly, I don't even think there's an argument you could make for Teague over those other four, but that's partially because of the skill of the other 4 and the high standards they set. Teague has been a lot worse as an overall leader and shooter. He's played out of control at times and displayed poor decision making. The talent is there, but in comparison to the others, he's not as talented. Most teams would kill to have him on their roster, but Kentucky wants a championship, and it will be interesting to see if he can lead them there.
Statistically, the 'Cats are very balanced with 6 players averaging over 10 points a game, and none average 14 or more a game. Darius Miller is a great senior to have come off the bench, and has possibly worked himself into a NBA draft slot and he is actually averaging more than Teague is.
Defensively, the Wildcats might be a better team in the half court than in years past. They don't rely as much on the fast breaks as they did previously, though it is still a big part of the offense. The amount of blocks they generate result in a lot of "turnovers". As pointed out by SI's Luke Winn, they take about 50% of the shots that are blocked and go to the other side of the court. So for the 9 they average, 4.5 of them are virtual turnovers.
All that said, what is it going to take to win?
Simply put, a lot will have to fall into place for the Tigers to win. However, there are some things that I like about our team. First and foremost is our slow pace. If Trent Johnson can shorten the game, it will only benefit LSU. The Tigers aren't going to outscore Kentucky in an up and down game. They need to keep the game in the 60's to have a chance. Taking 25 seconds out of each shot clock is the best way to do that. LSU is known for being stingy in the half court defensive sets, which will also shorten the game.
Make shots. LSU hasn't been all that good at actually shooting, whether players are open or not. A few lucky ones will have to go down. That means we might need some prayers to give us a few more that we already used up against Mississippi State. This includes not missing free throws, which LSU has been doing far too much of recently.
Offensive rebounds. That is what, I think, did Kentucky in against Indiana. It seemed as though Indiana would come up with a lucky rebound to keep a possession alive, but as it happened all game I noticed it as a chink in Kentucky's armor. It will definitely be risky, because LSU will virtually be gambling a free layup if they don't get a rebound, but it's one thing they will have to do to win.
Justin Hamilton needs to have an efficient game. He's a very close match to Cody Zeller, who torched the UK team in the Indiana game. Zeller, while only a freshman, displayed quite a few great post moves that Kentucky couldn't stop. Unlike Zeller, Hamilton has a better face-to-the-basket game and can make open shots. Drawing Davis out of the lane probably won't allow LSU to enter it, but it will throw Davis off his normal game of being a sort of "gatekeeper".
If all this happens, LSU will have a chance to win. Kentucky is a somewhat worse road team(as most are) and have been a lot shakier in buildings that are shaking. Last year was a disaster on the road for the 'Cats, but this year they have been winning games in opposing gyms. LSU has proven they are able to both compete with and defeat superior teams in the PMAC. Marquette and Virginia are both legitimate top 20 teams and LSU has played well against both.
Needless to say, I'm hoping and praying the LSU crowd will show up for this game. It's important whether LSU is able to win or not; I mean this is #1 we are talking about!
Tip-off is set for 3:00. Below is a copy/paste of the TV schedule:
SEC Network (In Louisiana: Alexandra-KLAX-DT; Baton Rouge-WAFB; Lafayette-KADN; Lake Charles-KVHP; Monroe-KARD; New Orleans-WUPL; Shreveport-KMSS).
This game is on ESPN3 for the out of state people. ESPN3 is not showing this game as blacked out, so everyone in every state should check to see if they can get it on the link below.
Click here to Watch ESPN