On Saturday evening in Rupp Arena, the LSU Tigers played their best offensive game in a long time as they battled back from a game long deficit to make it a one point game with only seconds left. Unfortunately, the Tigers were unable to make a miracle happen, and fell to Kentucky 75-70. For me, at least, it's an easy game to forget, because most teams that enter Rupp do so as big underdogs. That was certainly the case, as LSU was 15 point dogs. The Tigers fought hard the entire game, made some plays when they needed to, and showed that they have some talent on the roster. It's all that LSU fans can ask for, when most know that 2014 is the year the program should be making moves upward.
Still, that doesn't diminish this season and it doesn't mean the team can't continue to grow or can't learn how to win. The middle of the SEC is as weak as it has ever been, so there are still wins available. And recently, Missouri has looked like one of the teams that is weak, at least without Laurence Bowers. Unfortunately for LSU fans, Bowers should return to action tonight for the other Tigers. He's a big reason why Missouri is on pace to return to the NCAA tournament, and also a big reason why they aren't considered a lock just yet. Without him, they were embarrassed by the other top teams(Florida and Ole Miss) and it caused a lot of people do doubt what this Missouri team has.
Another important player for Missouri has been sharpshooter Jabari Brown. After sitting out and transferring from Oregon, the guard has been making up for all of the scoring that was lost when Michael Dixon was kicked off the team. At nearly 40%, he's a great three point shooter, and with fellow guard Phil Pressey on the outside, he finds himself open for a lot of good shots. Pressey's average of 7 assists per game is near the top in the nation, and as an assist first guard, he's very effective. Earnest Ross(Auburn) and Keion Bell(Pepperdine) were both leading their teams before they decided to transfer to Missouri. Alex Oriaki was UConn's leading rebounder and keeps that distinction on the Tigers.
The pieces that this Missouri team has, when healthy and complete, is why I thought that they would win the SEC. Florida looks like a juggernaut right now, but the Gators still need to make a trip to Columbia, MO for a game that could get the Tigers back into the driver's seat if they can upset the Gators at home.
Tonight, unfortunately for LSU, I like a lot of what Missouri has available. Their scoring capabilities are much greater than LSU's, and they can rely on any number of different players to produce for them. At times, LSU's perimeter defense can be exploited, and Missouri is a team that is very adept at finding open shooters. Alex Oriaki is a great, experienced player, that should be able to muscle our forwards around if he can stay out of foul trouble.
I do expect LSU to have some success offensively as well. Missouri's adjusted defense isn't nearly as good as you would think for a team ranked as highly as they are, and LSU is coming off a game in which Andre Stringer and Anthony Hickey combined for 28 points on some very good shooting. Johnny O'Bryant was able to have success against a pretty imposing front line, and with Nerlens Noel's performance yesterday, I'm kind of hoping JOB can have a breakout game after that.
Vegas seemingly likes LSU's chances, as the LSU Tigers are 4.5 point underdogs. They agree that the game will be somewhat higher scoring with an over/under of 144. I'm conflicted on this game, because I do think LSU can compete with Missouri, especially at home. LSU has typically come out hot against high profile teams at the PMAC during my three year career here. I'd like to be surprised, but my head says that Missouri should come away with a hard fought win.
Game time is set for 7:00 CT and the game can be seen on ESPN3 and the SEC Network local channels (Alexandria - KLAX-DT2; Baton Rouge - WBXH; Lafayette - KLAF; Monroe - KARD; New Orleans - WUPL; Shreveport - KSHV).