Now halfway through the SEC regular season, the LSU Tigers sit in a tie for 8th place with the Tennessee Volunteers at 3-5. So far, the road has been very unkind to the Tigers in SEC play, as they are yet to win a game. Despite the fact that Vanderbilt has been relatively disappointing this season, it still seems unlikely that LSU will be able to win in Nashville.
The Tigers did pick up a much needed win over SEC West rival Arkansas on Saturday, but with the news that Ricardo Gathers decided to take his talents to Waco, SEC fans will need another win to keep calm. Vanderbilt comes into tonight's 8:00 CT tip off with a stable 16-7 (5-3) record, but with the high off-season expectations, the 'Dores have underachieved so far.
At the beginning of the year, the story/reason/excuse was that Vanderbilt was missing center Festus Ezeli, a starter from last year and an anchor down low. With the ambitious schedule, losses were bound to happen, especially with so many good teams on the schedule.
The early season was a mix of good, bad, wtf?, and meh... losses. Cleveland State, while a decent team themselves, shouldn't have been able to pick up a win on Vanderbilt's home court. Louisville and Xavier were both overtime losses, and hot teams at the time of those games, but you would have expected a senior-laden Vanderbilt team to win at least one of the games. Indiana State is similar to Cleveland State, an OK team, but not a team you expect to see beat the 'Dores.
SEC for the Commodores started off great, though we now see that Auburn, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee aren't all that impressive. A win over Alabama is, especially with the way they completely dominated the Tide on their homecourt, but since then they've lost 3 of 4 SEC games.
I think most Vanderbilt fans would agree that while they expect to win against LSU, they would much rather have a rematch with any of the bottom teams tonight. Coming off two road losses, and awaiting a game with Kentucky for gameday on Saturday, this could end up being a classic trap game. Of course, I have to caution our own team that they can't be looking ahead to Alabama and giving up this game.
Vanderbilt is led by a bunch of seniors, but it is John Jenkins that will get most of the attention and admiration with his fantastic season so far. He's a threat for both 1st team all-SEC and perhaps a spot on an All-American team. Currently he's averaging nearly 20 points a game while shooting it at over 43%. Even if you didn't know who he was, it wouldn't take long watching a game of his to pick him out with his smooth shooting stroke and range.
There's plenty more firepower on the court for Vanderbilt, however. Jeffrey Taylor is also having a fantastic year, averaging 17 points a game and doing so with even better shooting numbers. As a 34% 3 point shooter from a year ago, he's made a big jump to 47% for this year(and already has more made 3's than last year with 26 less attempts so far).
Down low, the previously mentioned Ezeli has been solid and is one of the better offensive centers in the country. Lance Goulbourne is a prototypical power forward, great at rebounding and scoring down low, but is having a little bit of trouble over the past 2 games.
What to look for: It looks like with the conclusion of the Arkansas and Florida games that LSU will mostly be done going against teams that like to press. It's somewhat unfortunate, because LSU looked like they finally managed to attack a pressure defense. Hickey's foul trouble kept them from exploiting it all game, but when he was on the court LSU matched the uptempo style of the Hogs.
Vanderbilt isn't known for being a great defensive team. Their offense is definitely their strength, and they use that to get opponents into trouble by forcing quick, bad shots once an opponent falls behind. When a team can match them on offense, they are a lot less likely to win.
For LSU, they can't stray from their gameplan of playing tough defense. Don't allow Vanderbilt second chances, since they are good enough to "get theirs" without any extra chances. As always, LSU will need to hope that Vanderbilt's shooters only go par or worse, since if they are on it could get out of hand early.
Vegas thought Vanderbilt should be 9 point favorites, but the public thought they should be 11 point favorites. Somewhere around there seems really fair. LSU has shown they can compete on the road, despite being big underdogs. O/U is 133, pretty nondescript.
Despite the fact that I really want LSU to win this game, I hate the match up. Vanderbilt is a similar but more talented version of Northwestern, who had no trouble putting up 88 points on us earlier in the year. With a better set of forwards and equally capable shooters, LSU will probably be playing catch up a lot of the night. Unfortunately, I see the Commodores taking tonight's game with a margin bigger than the spread.
Tip off is set for 8:00 CT. Here's the TV information.
The game will be televised live on CSS and Cox 4 in the Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette area and on tape delay on Cox Sports TV after the New Orleans Hornets game.
The game will also be on Watch ESPN, and it doesn't look to be blacked out.