The best part and the worst part of March Madness is the hope. There's always that sliver of hope that something great can happen. Whether it's the big upset, the buzzer beater, or the breakout performance from the 5'10" team manager, there's always hope for every player on every team that they can make the play. They can win the game.
That has to be the message today from Trent Johnson to his young LSU Tigers. Kentucky is the best team going into this game. They have been the best team going into virtually every game this season. One of those games was a 20 point blowout of the LSU Tigers in the PMAC. But that game is over and done with. In fact, every game up until today is over and done with.
Today at noon CT, however, the LSU Tigers have the chance to continue what could be a history making "run". I say run because it has only been one game so far. And it would still require two more to complete the run. The toughest stretch will be the next forty minutes of game time. And it will require the LSU Tigers to play their absolute best forty minutes of the season.
So you may be asking yourself, what hope is there? To start, I think that LSU has finally convinced themselves that the season isn't over. Whether it was the fire of the 1 and done scenario or the motivation of some seniors that were pissed off after losing at home on senior day, something changed. There was aggression when LSU took the floor against Arkansas.
I think the best example of this was the way that Johnny O'Bryant took it upon himself to carry LSU through the Arkansas game. Granted, he actually got quite a bit of help, but even if that help wasn't there he was going to do everything he could to get the win. Ralston Turner also did that as well at times, and his step back jump shots were daggers midway through the game.
Kentucky, however, is a totally different team. While aggressive play by LSU allowed them to win pretty easily against Arkansas, Kentucky will play just as aggressively on both ends of the floor. With their incredible size, they cause problems for virtually every team they play, including LSU. The Tigers will need more than a good mindset and strategy to win the game today.
First, the shooting needs to stay hot. LSU, over the last two games, has actually shot it quite well from long range. In close it was ugly against Auburn, while it was effective against Arkansas. Ralston Turner will need to continue to hit his jump shots, considering he might be a player that is able to get his shot off if Doron Lamb is guarding him.
Secondly, LSU will need to keep pace in the rebounding department. JOB will need to neutralize the advantage that Terrence Jones game UK in the first game. Jones' inside and out play was probably the biggest reason that LSU lost the first game. That, and the fact that Justin Hamilton was unable to get any rhythm because he was saddled with foul trouble most of the game.
Lastly, the pace needs to be dictated by LSU. Kentucky is good enough to play at almost any pace, whether it is fast or slow, but slow games always benefit the underdog simply because it reduces the amount of chances Kentucky will have to score. The less chances UK has, the less shots that LSU needs to make. With the leading shot blocker, Anthony Davis, altering or outright blocking a ton of shots, the less LSU needs the better. That will mean that players like Anthony Hickey and Chris Bass need to play under control and not turn the ball over. Bass has not played very well lately, and that will need to change. If he can get up to four assists without a turnover and perhaps a steal, LSU might have enough to stay in the game.
What to watch for: As you can probably tell by now, I'm really high on JOB at the moment. I think he will be the key for LSU because of his match up with Jones on offense and defense. Jones is extremely talented, but at times his work ethic can be low. Perhaps knowing that UK is huge favorites and that the 1 seed is locked up will slow him down today and allow JOB to get something going.
Vegas is giving the Wildcats 16.5 today, which is quite substantial, however the EDIT: (O/U=129). Vegas is thinking that LSU will struggle to get to 60 points, which I think they will be able to get close to, so I would take the over in this game. Obviously, my heart is with LSU, but it's pretty foolish to think that they would outright win the game. I do think they will keep it respectable, simply because I don't expect foul trouble to be as big of a problem today, and that they will beat UK with the points.
Tip-off is scheduled for 12:00 CT and the game can be seen on ESPNU. Once again, it will be available on ESPN3 so that you can watch while you pretend to work.