Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
So far February has been good for the LSU Tigers basketball team. They are playing well and are coming off two straight blowout wins. Although it isn't against the best competition, it's an improvement from the start of the season. Let's keep it going, Tigers.
The story of LSU basketball in the short term is pretty simple; Johnny O'Bryant. He's stepped up to a level that he's never been to in his career so far at LSU. It's unfortunate that I have to include the point that he did this against the two worst teams in the SEC, but it's still compelling how well he is playing right now. Against South Carolina, JOB3 recorded LSU's first 30 point game in 4 years, while adding 10 rebounds to make it a double-double. Against Mississippi State, he nearly was able to get to a triple-double, finishing with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists. Both statistics are quick and easy measures to tell how dominant a player is in a given game.
Tonight against Tennessee, JOB3 will have the chance to do it against a legitimate opponent and against an equally talented forward. The Vols are coming off a 30 point dismantling of Kentucky at home, which could send Kentucky into a tailspin that they never recover from. Jarnell Stokes is a double-double machine, just as JOB3 is, though he finished with 9 and 9 in limited minutes because of the blow out. Head to head, both players are very similar. They have the capability to get open on the post, create their own shots from the foul line, and lead their team virtually every game in rebounding.
Needless to say, if one or the other gets an edge, that team probably wins. However, I think the key to tonight's game is the supporting cast of both Stokes and O'Bryant. It's no secret that when either team struggles to score, they tend to lose. Both teams have some ugly losses this season and that's why both are at 6-6 and waiting for a spark in conference play. Both teams are also riding winning streaks into the game, and coming off blowout victories. They are somewhat identical in many ways.
The differences in the team comes down to shot selection tonight. Tennessee will need to do what they do best, shoot free throws. LSU will need to do what they do best, make three pointers. The key will be which coach can adjust their game plan to do what they do best tonight. Defensively, I think both teams will create problems for the other simply because the defenses are the strength of both teams. Numerically, I think LSU needs to hit at least 8 three pointers to win with less than 27 attempts, while I think Tennessee needs to get to the line at least 25 times.
Vegas likes Tennessee at home in this one by 7.5, and that sounds quite reasonable. I can understand why people would like to take a team coming off such an impressive victory at home. LSU has been playing very well lately and is 6-2 vs. the spread since the Texas A&M win, so it's entirely possible they can beat the spread tonight. With an over/under of 132 I think I take the under just because both teams have shown their inability to score many times this season. As for the overall winner, I wish I could say I think LSU will win on the road, but I'm not sure how O'Bryant will play against a player that could give him foul trouble and I think UT should pick up a victory.
Game time is set for 6:00 CT and the game can once again be seen on national TV on ESPNU and also on WatchESPN.