Delusional Optimism made a commitment to expand the love to not just the football team, but everyone wearing the purple and gold. Considering I'm a long-time LSU hoops skeptic, this shall be an extraordinary challenge for me: to say nice things about our basketball team.
So let's ease into it and start with a negative, yet true statement: LSU is not going to win the national title in basketball. OK, I guess it's theoretically possible, as we are in the tournament and all, but the chances of LSU cutting down the nets in three weeks is as remote as LSU tapping me and Billy to replace Jim Hawthorne as the Voice of the Tigers.
However, this frees us from the standard expectation of "win or else" and we can now define success on our own. Actually, you could make a pretty good argument that simply making the field of 64 (sorry, BYU) makes this a successful year. Everything else is lagniappe.
But we already bought new shoes for the Big Dance, so we might as well stick around for a few numbers. The basketball team has a great chance here to win some goodwill from a fanbase that has held them at arm's length ever since Daddy Dale rode off into the sunset. Win a game or two, get some positive vibes, and then bring in the Best Recruiting Class in School History (patent pending).
The biggest knock on LSU this season was that the team played down to the level of its competition (well, that and horrid in-game coaching, but let's just stick with the inconsistency). LSU would beat Arkansas and then lose to Auburn. It was infuriating, but also showed that this team couldn't afford to assume victory.
The good news is that this isn't that much of a problem in the tournament. It won't take much convincing to get the players to believe that the other team is good. They did make the tourney, after all. LSU is 6-1 this season against teams that made the tournament, which demonstrates the ability of these guys to turn it on against good teams.
Of course, NC State fans are probably saying the same thing right now. The committee says they don't try to arrange matchups, but come on. It can't be an accident that the two most bipolar teams in the field are playing each other in round one (and no, I will not call it the Second Round). Someone gets vindication.
The best part of the tournament is seeing teams that contrast styles. And for all of NCSU and LSU's similarities in their Nitty Gritty Report, their style of play and team make-up couldn't be more different, which should lead to some entertaining basketball. On paper, LSU's frontcourt should absolutely abuse NCSU's bigs. By contrast, NC State has to be salivating over the matchup of their guards against LSU's.
It gets really fun when you look at the advanced stats. LSU ranks 33rd in Defensive Efficiency. NC State ranks 30th in Offensive Efficiency. That's strength against strength when the Pack has the ball, but the script flips when LSU is on offense: LSU ranks 75th in Efficiency and NCSU 91st. The irresistible force suddenly becomes pretty easy to resist.
LSU ranks 24th in the nation in tempo, using very little of the shot clock. NC State ranks 272nd in tempo, making them one of the slowest, most tedious offenses in Division 1. LSU turns the ball over at a prodigious rate, ranking 274th in the nation. But no worries, NCSU's turnover defense is equally terrible, ranking 341st. Neither team can really get to the line, and it seems unlikely the Wolfpack can exploit our biggest weakness: offensive rebounds or the lack thereof.
Anything LSU is good at offensively, NCSU is good at defensively. Anything LSU is poor at defensively, NCSU is equally poor at offensively. It should be a wonderful contrast. Really, the winner of this game will be the team that wants it more. I know that's a big ‘ol cliché, but that's why it became a cliché.
It's almost impossible to say one of these teams is better than the other. Their weaknesses and strengths are so opposite, they match up with each other like the teeth on a zipper. Anyone who says they have some insight on this game is probably lying to you. This is as evenly matched as games get, which is good for the committee, seeing as this is an 8/9 game. Well done, y'all.
That's where Delusional Optimism comes in. We've got the mojo. This is shaping up to be remarkable spring for LSU athletics. Softball is #1 in the country, as is baseball (in one poll, anyway). Gymnastics is prepping their run for the national title. And we have both basketball teams in the tournament field.
Let's kick the season of the Tigers off right. Let's go out there, kick some puppy butt, and then hope for the best against Villanova. Really, at that point, there will be no bad result. Just get the opening round win and all of the Tiger faithful will go home happy regardless.
All it takes is a little belief.