It's been a less-than-ideal start for LSU on the hardwood, especially after a loss to Old Dominion to open the Paradise Jam. But on the heels of a workmanlike win against Weber State on Saturday, there's still a chance to salvage the trip to the Virgin Islands with a win over Clemson.
LSU lucked out in a way, as Clemson was about the only team in the field (other than Seton Hall, which won its opener and therefore couldn't face LSU) that could help matters going forward. Despite being a marginally tougher matchup than, say, Nevada, Clemson being an ACC team means a lot here.
With LSU in the midst of the plague that is SEC basketball, non-conference games against power-5 foes are at a premium. Hell, LSU only scheduled two of them - to be fair, UMass might as well be. Well, Clemson may not be a great team or even threaten for the NCAA Tournament but it's the perfect opponent for LSU right now. With losses to Winthrop and Gardner Webb under its belt, Clemson is just porous enough for the purple-and-gold Tigers to handle but also a respectable enough team to help LSU in the long run.
Clemson still has games left against three more SEC teams and Rutgers (a new B1G addition) before delving into an ACC slate that includes dates with powerhouses like Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia. Even if Clemson is an NIT team at best, their RPI and rep is solid enough to help LSU, so it's imperative LSU wins this game.
Let's delve into how they might make that happen.
In the second half of the Weber State game, LSU may have finally found an identity, feeding Jordan Mickey relentlessly as he displayed his full arsenal offensively. He finished with a career-high 27 points and 14 rebounds, supplemented by Jarell Martin's slash-and-finish game and Keith Hornsby's spot-up jumpers.
Clemson isn't small inside, but they'll have to rely on junior center Landry Nnoko a lot. He's been up to the task defensively this season, swatting three shots a game on average and corralling a lot of defensive rebounds. But he's a step slower than Mickey and Martin, who should be able to carve through the lane with ease.
And that has to be the gameplan. LSU's stalled out for several minutes at a time this year when they settle for a lot of outside shots. The problem in planning to feed the post for this team is the dearth of rhythm and comfort running sets with so many new pieces playing together. LSU's turnover ratio is exactly 1:1 through four games, not a comforting sign for a unit that should be able to create mismatches athletically with some sound ball movement.
Defensively, LSU has been sound if a little bit prone to some lethargy. They were swarming in the second halves against Weber State and Texas Tech, while the opener against Gardner Webb could be chalked up to first-game issues. Even against Old Dominion, foul trouble changed the complexion of the game in the first half, and the Monarchs were red-hot from the field in the second half.
Clemson is not a high-volume shooting team, and they likely won't push the pace. They're deliberate in their sets and like to find points in the mid-range and at the foul line. The orange-claw Tigers shoot a blazing 47.9 percent from the field, but there's a way to contain them. Since they only shoot 28 percent beyond the arc, the plan should be to pressure them to the perimeter, with the goal of clogging passing lanes or forcing them to beat you from the 3-point line.
Like I said, it's a good matchup and a nice test for LSU to get in November. There won't be some grand takeaway from today's game - the basketball season is a long one. Still, the trajectory of this Tiger season has been mostly a flatline so far, with a few scribbles in either direction. This could get the chart trending upward, with a 4th place finish in the Paradise Jam to boot.
Tip-off is at 3 p.m., and you can listen to the game on the LSU Sports Radio Network or stream video at http://team1sports.com/basketballtravelers. Be warned, though, as the stream can be frustrating at times.