Taking care of business.
That's LSU agenda for this portion of the schedule and the Tigers did it with precision against the Hogs, punishing Arkansas early and stemming every late run en route to a dominant 88-74 win.
This team is 14-6 through 20 games, right about where it should be. The Tigers appear to be on the upswing, and Arkansas was the latest example of that.
Remember that mid-season swoon by the LSU offense? Remember all the gripes about Johnny Jones' sets in the half-court? They seem like forever ago, because the LSU offense that showed up against a depleted Hogs squad may finally drive the point home.
The Tigers have figured it out.
It was the fourth time in the last five games LSU reached 80 points after doing it just once in the previous 10 outings. More impressive was how LSU did it. Even in the last two weeks, the offense largely relied on hot shooting or Johnny O'Bryant III's excellence to pile up points.
Not on Saturday. That was the best team offense LSU played all season, with seven players - including all five starters - tallying at least two assists. All told, 22 of LSU's 35 made shots came with assists. That's a sign ball movement has improved and LSU isn't content to just pass the ball around the wing. That lethargy has been the killer against the zone, but the Tigers showed it might be a non-issue going forward.
Despite the superior ball rotation and a sound 3-point shooting game, this LSU attack still runs through the post. Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin and JOB combined for 60 points and 25 rebounds against the Hogs. They were everywhere, swatting shots, throwing down dunks in transition and outworking an outmanned Hogs frontcourt to pace the Tigers 45-33 rebounding edge. That's the way LSU should play with such premier talent in the paint. While some teams will keep that trio off the boards better and require more perimeter contribution, their line against Arkansas shouldn't be an outlier.
(JORDAN MICKEY NOTES: He's been absolutely insane at blocking shots this season, which you could probably see with your own eyes. But he's even better than you think. He now has 75 blocks, which is already sixth most in LSU single-season history and good for 3.75 per game. If Mickey continues that pace and LSU plays, say, 13 more games, he'll end the year with approximately 124 blocks, breaking Shaq's freshman record of 115 and finishing behind only O'Neal's final two seasons, Anthony Davis and Jarvis Varnado's three seasons in SEC single-year history. Historic stuff. Plus, his six swats vs. Arkansas equaled the Hogs team total. It's the 14th time in 20 games this year that Mickey has equaled or surpassed the opposing team's block total by himself. Given his polished offensive game, he's easily the best LSU freshman since Anthony Randolph and maybe since Shaq himself.)
Of course, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Arkansas is now 2-19 on the road under Mike Anderson (the two wins were at Auburn), and the Hogs suspended Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris before the game. LSU hopped on that turmoil early and still had some work to do a couple times in the second half.
Yet, just like the Kentucky and Missouri triumphs, LSU responded with brutal efficiency every time Arkansas made a run. Also, the Tigers need any decent RPI wins they can get and the Razorbacks were hovering around 80 entering the game. Harris and Qualls' absence doesn't matter there, as the computers won't know the difference.
There's still that little matter of road games, which has given this erratic group fits this season. The Tigers are 2-3 in true road tilts, with all of them coming down to the final minute of regulation. In two of them (Ole Miss, Alabama), LSU blew a lead in the final few minutes and even in the two wins (Texas Tech, South Carolina), the Tigers seemingly had the game in hand before collapsing. That resilience and poise LSU has shown when teams make runs at home? It's been absent on the road, and that's this team's next step.
Road trips to Georgia, Arkansas and Texas A&M surround home lay-ups against Auburn and Mississippi State in the next five games. It's a nice mix of tough environment vs. a decent team (Arky), pesky home squad with less talent (UGA) and as easy of a road trip as the SEC has to offer right now (A&M).
There's some real excitement around LSU now, and such expectations crippled many LSU teams during the Trent Johnson and John Brady eras. (See: 2003-04, 06-07 and 11-12). This is the first time the Tigers have real pressure on them since Jones arrived. Arkansas was a good step toward quelling doubts, but real proof is still out there. Stay tuned.
(Author's Note: I am assembling a series on the Top 5 LSU basketball games of the last 20 years. If you have any that you'd like to nominate or some memories/thoughts on them, I just may include your perspective in the post. There's no real criteria, just what you deem as the top 5. You can put them in the comments here or email me at email@example.com.)