It's easy to forget with the whirlwind of football news in the past few days, but there's a fairly important basketball game for an LSU squad coming off one of the most wacky and topsy-turvy wins in recent memory.
Of course, until they prove otherwise, every road game is a big one for the Tigers at this point. These are the results that will ultimately separate LSU when it comes to the tournament resume and conference finish. Last night alone, a pair of previously 2-0 teams in conference, Arkansas and Alabama, fell on the road. This is a crucial game, especially considering that it begins a stretch of four road trips in six games.
And of course, it's at the Tad Pad of all places. The history there is overwhelmingly negative for the Tigers. They've lost four straight in Oxford and six out of their last seven, including an early gut-punch last season, when LSU coughed up a late lead (sound familiar?) and was bulldozed by 14 in an 88-74 overtime loss.
The key figure from that Ole Miss squad, legendary nemesis Marshall Henderson, is gone but there's a team that has more than enough pieces to trip up LSU. In fact, according to RPI Forecast, the Tigers have just a 26% chance of winning and Ole Miss is a 6-point favorite. I don't know if things are that dire but no doubt this is a tough matchup. After all, the Rebels are fresh off an overtime loss in Rupp and a 65-49 romp over South Carolina, a top-half-of-the-league team.
LSU's perimeter defense will get a stern test here, as all three Ole Miss starting guards average at least 12 points per game and do something exceptionally well. LaDarius White is a lethal 3-point shooter at 49 percent for the year, Stefan Moody makes 90% of his free throws and Jarvis Summers is the do-everything slasher who gets to the rim, doles out assists and powers the offense. All three are upperclassmen and they carry the team on their back.
That's necessary because the Rebels are moderately height deficient, with no contributor over 6-foot-9, though they do have four players at that size. They're a poor rebounding squad in a lot of ways, but we've seen with this LSU team that it can get crushed on the boards when the effort isn't there. The Tigers will need a max effort in the paint to counter Ole Miss' quick hands and shooting range, be it getting rebounds, taking pressure off the perimeter or forcing the Rebels out of zone.
Ole Miss was a bit of a disappointment in non-conference play but we've seen that those things don't matter much once SEC play starts (Hello, Missouri last week!). If LSU truly found an identity and composure in the overtimes against Georgia, I think there's a chance they emerge with a win.
Until this team compiles a league victory or two away from home, I wouldn't bet on that kind of poise just yet.