USA TODAY Sports
Rupp Arena has always been the toughest place to win in the SEC. Under John Calipari, virtually nothing has changed. But the Wildcats are vulnerable at home this year. Can LSU make the plays needed to steal a win against the defending national champions?
LSU head coach Johnny Jones picked up his first SEC win on Wednesday night as the Tigers rallied to defeat the Texas A&M Aggies 58-54. It was a solid second half defensive performance that aided the Tigers, though some of it was due to the fact that neither team was all that efficient offensively. Despite the fact that it was quite close for the final minutes and went down to the buzzer, the game was quite difficult to watch. In the end, the Tigers did just enough to get out of the SEC cellar.
Unfortunately, it doesn't get any easier for the Tigers as they now travel to Kentucky to take on the Wildcats. Kentucky is a somewhat solid team this year, though it still remains to be seen if they can win enough games to get back to the NCAA tournament to defend their title. The weakness of the SEC won't help them, as they still are without any top 50 RPI wins.
On paper, UK has a very solid team. Nerlens Noel is statistically dominating for Kentucky, averaging over four blocks and two steals a game. Fellow freshmen Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress are the top two scorers for the 'Cats, though recently they have come under criticism for bad decision making and lack of hustle. Kyle Wiltjer is the veteran of the team, though he is only a sophomore, and I think he might be the best shooter on the team. Point guard Ryan Harrow has settled in nicely for Kentucky after a rough start to the year.
LSU was a team that played close with Kentucky last year in the SEC tournament before faltering late. Anthony Hickey controlled the tempo very well and caused problems for the Wildcat guards. I have to imagine that John Calipari has some ideas on how to limit his effectiveness, so LSU will need some help from the other players. Unfortunately, Corban Collins is still out for LSU, so Hickey is the only point guard on the roster right now.
I think the big problem for LSU is that they won't have anyone capable of getting past Nerlens Noel. He's an elite shot blocker that can control the lane. Against a smaller team like LSU, points will be difficult to come by inside, and right now LSU isn't shooting it well enough to win games solely from behind the three point line. Anytime we do get inside, look for UK to foul and put our struggling free throw shooters on the line rather than giving up points.
Kentucky comes in as big favorites and gives up 15.5 points for this game. I might give it up and take the Cats, since LSU hasn't shown they are able to stop big time players like Kentucky has. Kentucky, for all of their faults, can still score enough to make this game a blowout, and LSU is so unpredictable offensively that I think it's safer to take UK.
Game time is set for 3:00 CT and the game can be seen on local SEC Network channels (Alexandria - KLAX-DT2; Baton Rouge - WAFB-TV; Lafayette - KLAF-TV: Monroe - KARD; New Orleans - WUPL; and, Shreveport - KMSS) and ESPN 3.