One of the biggest highlights for last season's LSU team was their dramatic upset of then-undefeated Marquette in Baton Rouge. The Golden Eagles strolled into the PMAC with a 10-0 record, including impressive wins over Wisconsin and Washington, but were upset by a 7-3 LSU squad that had already dropped games to Coastal Carolina and South Alabama.
A year later, much has changed for both teams. Marquette is a far cry from last year's Sweet 16 team, which featured senior stars Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, while Ralston Turner, who poured 22 points for LSU in their 67-59 upset last year, has transferred to NC State. However, the Tigers have had a promising start to the season, All of their newcomers have made tangible contributions, especially Shavon Coleman.
Meanwhile, Marquette has had to rely exclusively on returning rotation players like Vander Blue and Davante Gardner for leadership. Highly regarded Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett has struggled with his jump shot so far, and none of the Golden Eagles' freshmen have earned significant playing time.
As a result, Marquette is showing signs of weakness for the first time in the Buzz Williams era. The team has already dropped a close game to Butler, lost to Florida by 33 in Gainesville, and is coming off an embarrassing loss to a 4-7 Green Bay team on Wednesday. In the 49-47 loss, Marquette managed only 16 points in the second half and hit less than 39 percent of their field goals.
Still, Marquette is favored by oddsmakers to win the game, in large part to their home court advantage. Although LSU is off to a 7-1 start, they have had a very light non-conference slate up to this point, and their road games against Boise State (a 19 point loss), and UC-Irvine (a 6 point win) haven't assuaged concerns about the Tigers.
The Golden Eagles' best player is guard Vander Blue, and if the Tigers go with a short line-up featuring two of Corban Collins, Andre Stringer, and Anthony Hickey in the backcourt, the 6'4" Blue will have a noticeable height advantage. Down low, Marquette's 290 pound center Davante Gardner will face off against Johnny O'Bryant, while point guard Junior Cadougan will match-up against LSU's best on-ball defender and ball-handler, Anthony Hickey, who is coming off a recent suspension for violating team rules and has not started since.
Looking at LSU's schedule at the beginning of the season, I had predicted this game would be one of the first opportunities to gauge the talent of this year's Tigers. However, while Marquette is the best team that LSU has faced thus far, their disappointing early season performances have taken some of the luster off this match-up.
If LSU wants to salvage their first road trip of the season, they need to win this game. Be sure to check it out on ESPNU at 2:00 Eastern time on Saturday.