This is absolutely it for LSU.
Win this game or an NCAA at-large opportunity is off the table. The Tigers have fooled around too much with mediocre teams and have so few signature wins that this Gainesville trip is the last straw.
Unfortunately, Florida just might be the best team in the country, absolutely deserving of its No. 1 ranking. The Gators are ferocious on defense. They have six guys who can be their best player on any given night. Freshman guard Kasey Hill is back after missing three games with a groin issue.
The Tigers could not have played themselves into a more difficult must-win game, but here we are. There's two ways to look at this. One: with a SEC title already clinched, a 20-game winning streak in tow and a chance to breathe after five straight grinding wins, maybe the Gators won't come out with fire for a matchup like LSU at home.
There's precedent from LSU for this exact phenomenon. In 2009, the Tigers won 13 in a row in the SEC and wrapped up the league title after a win at Kentucky. That team then laid a home egg against a mediocre Vanderbilt squad and let off the gas before the conference tournament. That could happen, but this Florida team is also a more complete team than that '09 LSU bunch.
Option No. 2 is scarier for the visitors. Florida could come out amped up, buoyed by the return of one its key reserves, playing with fire to cut down a net after the game and freed from the pressure that's followed the Gators for the last month. That scenario leaves LSU no chance.
Obviously, I doubt this game will be as cut and dry as those two poles, but I think you'll see some version of those stories unfold today.
For the Tigers to take advantage of any potential UF lethargy, there's several facets they must excel in. Andre Stringer and Anthony Hickey must continue the hot shooting they've displayed the last two weeks. Johnny O'Bryant III doesn't need a 20 and 10, but he needs to be efficient (read: few turnovers) and not get caught trying to match Patric Young inside.
Finally, there's defense. LSU finally showed some fight against A&M on Wednsday, and 49 points for the Aggies was the result. The Gators have so many different offensive options, which will force LSU to either pack it in with a zone and hope Florida can't hit shots. Otherwise, an already shorthanded Tiger rotation will be run ragged and have trouble holding up.
Almost everything would have to go right for LSU to emerge triumphant on Saturday afternoon. It's sobering that this team needs everything to go right for a dwindling shot at the Big Dance. LSU can change that script, but time is running out for our protagonist.