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Preview/GameThread: Ole Miss at LSU (ESPN2, 8pm)

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The Tigers return home for a get-right game against the Rebs.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There’s not exactly a lot of trust in this program right now, and with good reason.

LSU basketball fans have been burned so many times this century, so asking for a little faith is really just asking way too much.

That being said, the Tigers need to give them a reason to believe again. Having navigated the toughest opening stretch of any SEC team but letting the Florida game slip away, LSU finds itself with a pair of very winnable home games to get back on the horse. It starts tonight with a competitive, if flawed, Ole Miss team that should be a challenge, not a threat.

The Rebels are led by diminutive guard Stefan Moody, who averages nearly a third of their points at 24 per game. He’s quick, tireless and active on both ends of the floor. On defense, it’s entirely possible he can swipe enough steals to give Ole Miss the easy points in transition it will need to compete. Offensively, Moody is a streaky long range shooter yet is probably far more dangerous driving into the lane for some contorting floaters. His assist-to-turnover ratio is an issue, almost even at 4.1-3.6 per game.

Moody is an elite player, but he’s a high-usage one and Ole Miss can often be one-dimensional except for him. He’s taken more than a third of their free throws and 3-pointers and nearly 30 percent of their total shots. LSU should throw the sink at this guy with depth, be it Josh Gray, Tim Quarterman, Brandon Sampson or Keith Hornsby. Make someone else on Ole Miss beat you.

Ole Miss may have the shinier record than LSU at 12-3 (2-1 SEC) but that’s a bit of a mirage. LSU is ranked significantly higher than the Rebels in the KenPom metrics -- more efficient offensively, defensively and amazingly with a tougher strength of schedule. Yes, Ole Miss somehow had a worse non-conference slate than LSU.

The Rebels dropped neutral site games to Seton Hall and George Mason and got smoked at Kentucky last week. Their most notable wins are home games against Georgia State, Alabama and a last-second Moody shot to beat a so-so Georgia squad. The Rebels are deep, relatively experienced but fairly untested.

Of course, if this sounds confident, it’s meant to be. LSU has looked much better even dating to the Wake Forest loss (the Deacs are a solid team this year), and now they’re freed from expectations for at least a few weeks. This program always seems to function better when there’s little pressure.

Ole Miss is certainly capable of coming into the PMAC and getting the win. It’s #SECBasketballFever season, after all. Nothing truly surprises. But LSU, especially with Craig Victor and Keith Hornsby settled in and the roster at full speed, is a far superior collection of talent than the Rebels.

So if LSU harbors any grander plans for its season following a solid start to SEC play, it can’t afford even a minor slip-up like this. Time to keep the ship steadying.