USA TODAY Sports
The SEC standings have been completely shaken up only a week into the conference season. LSU and South Carolina both had some momentum but now find themselves tied for last place. Someone will pick up a much needed win tonight in Baton Rouge that could mean a lot later in the season.
The LSU Tigers started off SEC play with a couple of duds against Auburn and Florida. Although the Tigers were able to hold small leads against Auburn, when the game got intense, LSU was unable to make the key plays that the other Tigers were able to make. Against Florida, the Tigers were blown out before they were able to figure out anyway to attack the Gator's defense. It was a massacre on the glass, as the Gators were also able to snatch nearly 50 rebounds total.
I admit that I'm somewhat surprised at how poorly LSU has looked so far. I ignored some key flaws that this team has, mainly that our only true center is still a former walk-on and that our forwards still aren't aggressive enough on the inside. Whether it's because they are nearly always out of position(in terms of the position they play, not the location on the court) or their physical size, the forwards seem more content with the ball outside the lane rather than inside the lane. Having a reliable jump shot can aid the team, but relying on it starts to become a problem.
Another problem, that most other teams have as well, is that LSU was relying quite a bit on freshmen early in the year, and not surprisingly, they are having trouble adjusting to bigger, more experienced SEC teams. Shane Hammink has scored only 9 points in the months of December and January combined, while Corban Collins has a DNP and only 4 minutes in SEC play. After a big game against Boise State, it seemed like Collins may have been more of a factor for us, but that's not the case. Malik Morgan has seen minutes varied lately and that probably will continue for the foreseeable future unless he can consistently hit the open shots. Unfortunately, it's going to be difficult for LSU to completely correct these problems even with some experience and time.
What is good for LSU is that they still can have a good season in the SEC despite the fact that they really don't have a chance of winning the conference. Every team is beatable for the remainder of the season and the LSU guards have the capabilities to lead the team when they play well. Anthony Hickey has had a solid start to the SEC season. It may fall on his shoulders to distribute the ball more and hopefully work the other guards and forwards through their slumps. Sometimes all it takes is one good game to get the team back on track.
That's what LSU will have to look to do tonight. South Carolina is one of the worst teams in the conference and has been for the past 5 years or so when LSU wasn't in last place. Defensively they are rated as one of the worst teams in division 1 according to kenpom's rankings, where they are 290th overall. LSU should have opportunities to exploit this for easy baskets, especially if the defense can force turnovers. Leading scorer Lashay Page is also out for the rest of the season, so the Gamecocks offense will also take a hit, though Bruce Ellington will help to offset the loss.
This should be a fun battle to watch between the guards tonight. Anthony Hickey vs. Bruce Ellington could be the deciding factor if either one is able to get hot and score on the other. Brenton Williams vs. Andre Stringer will also be key, as both shoot over 40% from beyond the arc.
LSU is actually a 10 point favorite in this game, so it looks like bettors haven't given up on the Tigers just yet. The over/under is at 145 which is somewhat high I think since both teams have a tendency to shoot poorly at times. I would take SC and the points in this game since LSU is in a funk and I think it would be safer until LSU proves they can compete against the higher quality teams. I'd take the under too since I can see it being ugly.
Game time is set for 7:00 CT and the game can only be seen on ESPN3.com and the WatchESPN service. There is no TV broadcast of tonight's game.