The LSU Tiger's first road game of the didn't go at all as planned, as the Boise State Broncos out shot, out rebounded, and out hustled the Tigers for an 89-70 win. The entire team, besides Corban Collins, had their worst game of the year, all at the same time, and they were beat because of that. It's still too early to know how much the loss will affect the team, since Boise looks to be a potential NCAA tournament team and LSU can recover from a single non-conference loss.
As the saying goes, "the rest of the season starts tonight". That's the way it has to be for LSU, because UC Irvine is in a similar position as the Broncos were. They've likely never had a team as big as LSU play a true road game on their home court. They might not even have that chance again. It's critical that the Tigers don't fall victim to a trap game like this, especially with a much bigger game against Marquette looming.
Although the Anteaters aren't as talented as Boise, they certainly have enough talent to upset LSU. Often times when major teams are willing to play a road game at a low or mid major, they do so against teams that can't beat them. That isn't the case here. UC Irvine has already shown that they can compete, as they've taken UCLA to the limit in an overtime loss, as well as by beating some good but not great WAC and MWC teams.
Statistically, the Anteaters are a very balanced team, as 11 players log at least 9 minutes a game, and only a single player is above double figures in scoring. Unlike other teams LSU has played so far, UC Irvine has the size to match up with LSU, so LSU will have to do a good job rebounding at every position to make sure they aren't upset. There's quite a few different players that can shoot from long range, but as a team the Anteaters are entirely average. That may be a crucial difference in this game, as LSU does seem capable of shooting the long range shots this year.
As for the Tigers, I think it's crucial that Shavon Coleman returns to form. He was not nearly as effective against the Broncos on Friday night, and having him on the floor with Johnny O'Bryant makes LSU a much better team. Even if he isn't able to score and has to defer to the guards, he will be relied upon for rebounding. Johnny O'Bryant should find it a little bit easier to score today, but he will still have to play more as a teammate rather than as an individual. 6 turnovers is far too many for a post player, and I think it is because of his reliance on post moves rather than post positioning. If he can get into positions close to the basket, he won't need to dribble and potentially lose the ball.
Somewhat surprisingly, UC Irvine is only a 1.5 point underdog in this game, and it even opened in Vegas as a pick 'em. Generally, my rule of thumb is to take the better team even if they are in a hostile environment because better players simply win. I think that's what the pick should be in this case, because LSU is the better team. If the Tigers play up to their capabilities, it won't matter what the location of the game is. Still, there's room to be nervous because LSU has dropped games like this over the past 4 years somewhat consistently.
Gametime is set for 9:00 CT but it cannot be seen anywhere; radio only.