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GAMETHREAD: Basketball vs. UT-Martin, 7pm, SECN+

Easy Dead Week action as Tigers return home from Maui

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-Marquette at Louisiana State Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Basketball Tigers return for another poor non-conference matchup in the PMAC tonight as they take on the UT-Martin Skyhawks (1-5). While the rest of the home schedule before January should be filled with wins against much lesser competition, LSU was able to hold their own against a strong Michigan team in Maui, allowing them to play Notre Dame and Marquette. I know we probably shouldn’t be too concerned with strength of schedule and RPI for this season, but it’s still very valuable experience for this raw team.

If you didn’t tune in for the late tip against Notre Dame or the Marquette game during the most busy travel day in America, guard Brandon Sampson sprained his ankle (out approximately 3-4 weeks) within the first thirty seconds against the Fighting Irish. LSU might have been heavily outmatched by Notre Dame on paper, but from that moment on there was really no question of how that game would finish. They were out-talented again by Marquette, but I can’t help but think the result would be different if Sampson were healthy.

For a team that’s struggled thus far on the defensive side on the ball, Sampson’s injury is specifically detrimental. Coach Wade’s made a point after every game (except the Michigan win, that was nice) to shine a spotlight on the dirty pile of defense, and the Tigers are losing arguably their best defensive weapon through December. That said, this next stretch of easier games could give others, specifically Brandon Rachal, some much needed defensive reps before they open conference play against Kentucky.

Now that I’ve dropped the K-word, we’re officially getting a little too far ahead of ourselves. Tonight’s opponent just may be the worst left on LSU’s schedule, so can you really blame me?

After starting the season with an overtime loss against Marshall, an encouraging three point loss to Illinois, and a strong win against UNC Central, the Skyhawks have embarrassed themselves in the last three contests, losing to three teams all ranked well below 150 in the KenPom. The most recent loss is against a team known as the UMKC Kangaroos. This happened only a few days after losing a game to Southern. THAT Southern. UT-Martin is bad, y’all.

According to KenPom, the Tigers return to the PMAC with a season low 96 ranking, while the Skyhawks check in at a crisp 272. LSU has an 89% chance of winning, and are projected to win by 14. Expect a solid defensive performance from UT-Martin, but also an offense that’ll give LSU’s struggling defense some relatively easy practice. The Skyhawks turn the ball over at an alarming rate of 22.7% of possessions, and only shoot 34.4% from beyond the arc. That said, they rank 46th in Division-I in offensive rebounds, giving the Tigers more opportunities to practice their key weaknesses.

Projected UT-Martin Skyhawks Starting 5

#2 PG - DelFincko Bogan: 8.3ppg, 2.6apg, 2.8 steals, 23.8 minutes

#1 SG - Matthew Butler: 15.5ppg, 2.5apg, 36.2 minutes

#11 SF - Darius Thompson: 5.3ppg, 1.8rpg, 20.0 minutes

#15 PF - Dominique Williams: 8.3ppg, 5.0rpg, 27.0 minutes

#12 C - Fatodd Lewis: 12.3ppg, 7.5rpg, 24.5 minutes

The Tigers tip off against the Skyhawks at 7pm tonight in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. This contest will be televised on SECN+ via the WatchESPN app, on the radio at 98.1 FM, or you can follow along in the comments below or through my live tweets @marq113.