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GAMETHREAD: LSU v. Wake Forest, 6PM CT (ESPNU)

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The last out-of-conference game before SEC play is a must win for the Tigers as they take on Wake Forest at home.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

LSU returns to action with a good test for the team after a little holiday break, on a night where most everyone's attention will be on football and the Texas Bowl. This is one of the last chances for the Tigers to bolster their OOC resume (along with a great opportunity for a signature win down the road against Buddy Hield and Oklahoma in the SEC/Big 10 Challenge) that has been pretty dismal up to this point. They get an upstart Wake Forest team coming off a tough loss (were up 18 at one point) to unbeaten #6 Xavier. That game continued a trend of performing above expectations for the ugly step-sister of North Carloina secondary education, leaving them with a solid 8-3 mark on the season (Wins against IU, UCLA, Arkansas. Losses to Vanderbilt and Xavier.)

The key guy for them: Devin Thomas. High-quality college player, senior leader, averaging 16.6 and 10.5 on the season. They follow his lead on both ends of the floor, but Thomas (and Coach Danny Manning, to the degree that he can) needs to keep himself out of foul trouble to stay effective. After a string of strong performances for LSU, it's the perfect level of difficulty for this Tiger team as they prepare to get thrown in to the heat of SEC play as 2016 kicks off.

Wake will likely look to double Simmons in certain spots and situations and it's essential that the passes that follow his own (out of the double) come without hesitation and in bunches to exploit a defense that looked slow to rotate on the back-end against Xavier. Defense and specifically closing out defensive possessions with box outs and rebounds will be a huge key tonight for a Tiger win.

This would be a big resume building win for a team in desperate need of them (though the Demon Deacons haven't cracked the KenPom top 100 yet), and more importantly, a more significant test than what they've faced so far (outside of at the Legend's Classic.) While Wake definitely has a coaching edge, the talent on LSU should be more than enough to put away the Demon Deacons. This game is more important for LSU than it is Wake Forest. It should be a close game start to finish, but I predict another strong performance and convincing LSU win.