Championship week is here and has already produced some fantastic finishes across the country. Overtime games have been common and a bunch of NCAA tournament bids have already been handed out. Although it would require an amazing stretch of wins, there is a bid out there for LSU if they have enough emotion and energy left to claim it. Even a run to the finals might be enough for LSU to claim a bid since it would mean they defeated Kentucky, but that's for another time.
First up is a third game against the Arkansas Razorbacks. In the regular season, the teams split the series at a game a piece and each won on their home court. The Hogs finished in sole possession of 9th in the conference with a 6-10 record, and 18-13 overall. Like LSU, the Razorbacks are going into the postseason with a trip to the NIT possible, but are hoping that they can score a few upsets and return to the Big Dance.
Also, like LSU, the Hogs have started to fall apart towards the end of the season. They are on a two game losing streak, but have lost 5 of 6 with a few 20 point blowouts. The Hogs were able to do what LSU could not and win on the road at Auburn, but that was too little too late to pick up their first road win of the season. February overall was not kind to Arkansas as they lost 7 of 9 total after going 5-3 in January with a pair of ranked wins.
So what has changed since the last meeting, or even the meeting before that? Not much really. Arkansas has stayed relatively healthy since then, but haven't really been able to capitalize with wins. An opportunity was missed on senior day when Ole Miss was able to escape with a 2 point win after being down by as much as 14 in the middle of the second half. Other than that though, they've had some bad blowouts to Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi State.
The key in the win for LSU in the second game was the change of pace that Trent Johnson used against the pressure defense system of Arkansas. Rather than solely trying to get the ball across half court to run the half court offense, he allowed Anthony Hickey to attack the basket. Even when he didn't have numbers in transition, he was able to make good decisions and only finished with 2 turnovers.
Another key was that LSU was also in attack mode in terms of going for offensive rebounds. LSU was about to grab 12 offensive boards and a total of 39 to have a pretty significant edge in that stat category. Both Hamilton and O'Bryant had identical 5 offensive, 11 total rebound games. Hamilton was much better in converting the misses, while JOB struggled to a 6 turnover game.
Since then, however, Johnny O'Bryant has improved in both categories. He is shooting it much better from the outside than he was in the beginning of the year, while also going after misses with much more ferocity. His healthy hand has allowed him to grip the ball much better and he tends not to lose them out of bounds as much anymore. Against Auburn, he was good at getting the rebounds, but like everyone in that game, couldn't hit a shot whatsoever.
What to look for today: Shooting will decide this game. Both coaches, after suffering losses due to coaching moves, will be eager to try different experiments. One that Trent Johnson has recently used is starting John Isaac instead of Andre Stringer. It actually worked pretty well against Auburn, as Isaac had a much better game than Stringer. It will be interesting to see if he repeats that move.
For Arkansas, I would expect them to scale back the pressure defense a little bit. After getting beat by an aggressive set of guards, they will want to force LSU into their anemic half court offense and hope to rebound more of the missed shots. Getting Justin Hamilton into foul trouble will also have to be a goal in order to win the game, simply because he's played the best against Arkansas this season.
Vegas thinks LSU is a slight favorite. After opening as only 1 point favorites, LSU has moved to 2 point favorites. It's expected to be a higher scoring game with a 137 O/U. I wouldn't bet anything on this game, just because I don't know what team will show up for either team. Will we see January or February? If it is February, LSU wins while Arkansas implodes. If it's January, LSU commits too many mistakes and falls out early in their home state.
I expected LSU to win at least one of their previous two games, and they ended up winning neither of them. I still expect them to beat Arkansas, but I'm a whole lot less confident than I would be if they picked up a win against either of the teams they played last week. I'm a little bit biased, but I guess since Arkansas has played so poorly over the last month I'm not sure they can just turn it on because it is the end of the year.
Tip off is set for 12:00 CT and the game can be seen on the following channels:
The game will be seen on the SEC Network (Baton Rouge -WBRH; Lafayette - WLAF; Monroe - KARD; New Orleans - WUPL; and, Shreveport - KMSS)
For those of you that wish to pretend to work or want to watch at lunch in the office, the game can be seen on ESPN3.