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National signing day got all of the attention, but the LSU men's basketball team has quietly improved after a disastrous start to the SEC season. The Tigers look to make it three in a row against the Commodores tonight in the PMAC.
Although LSU had a horrid start to the year, the Tigers have quietly been playing much better lately, and that is especially true for power forward Johnny O'Bryant. Over the last five games, he's scored at least 12 points and added at least 10 rebounds. Though he still turns the ball over way too much for a forward, he has increased his assist totals to make up for it. In the last five games, he has 11 assists compared to only 4 for the five games before that.
I think the biggest reason for this is the emergence of point guard Anthony Hickey. Hickey was the hero in the win against Mississippi State, though he didn't have his best game, and also was a huge contributor in the win over Missouri. Whatever disciplinary problems kept him out of action earlier in the year seem to have gone away and it's benefiting both Hickey himself and the team. Johnny Jones' decision to let Hickey into the starting line up benefits the team in many ways, and I think had he done so sooner LSU might have been in a better position at this point.
Either way, LSU still has plenty of opportunities to move up in the rankings, and a good opportunity is tonight against Vanderbilt. The Commodores, as mentioned, are one of the most up and down teams this year. They have horrible losses where they were blown out and managed to score less than 40. They also have had many solid games, such as when they nearly upset both Kentucky and Ole Miss. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I think it is mostly due to head coach Kevin Stallings' skill that the team is able to get up for games. I think that is one place LSU is at a disadvantage tonight; Stallings should be able to out coach Johnny Jones. The battle will be to see if LSU's overall talent edge can make up for it so the Tigers come out with a win.
I think the key match up for this game is Johnny O'Bryant vs. Rod Odom. Odom is an experienced junior that knows how to win in Stallings' system and has the size to match up with JOB. Vanderbilt, as a team, typically played very well against LSU in the previous years, and Odom should have some idea as to how to attack the LSU defense and perhaps get JOB into foul trouble.
Vegas has LSU as solid six point favorites with an over/under of 126, suggesting it will be slower in pace than against Missouri. I think that LSU is capable of making this game uptempo and they will do everything they can to run tonight because it is what worked against both Texas AM and Missouri earlier. I would definitely be tempted to take Vanderbilt with the points because they tend to play every team close and because LSU is coming off a bad shooting game. If LSU is off, they can still win, but I don't think they would cover.
The game is only available on ESPN3 for tonight, so no TV but it also shouldn't have any blackouts.