With only one trip to Memphis separating LSU from their conference opener, the Tigers (8-3) need to prepare for an abnormally tough SEC schedule.
Here’s the reality of the situation: as of now, every other SEC team is ranked higher than LSU by KenPom. Only Arkansas’s offense is rated higher than the Tigers’, but no other team has a worse defense. LSU is projected to finish dead last in the conference with a 6-12 record. Right as Will Wade arrives to rebuild and save the basketball program, the SEC decides to turn into a conference capable of looking like they’ve heard of the sport. All 14 teams are ranked in the top 100, and exactly half of the conference is ranked in the top 50.
Now, not everything about the rest of the schedule is doom and gloom. LSU has already beaten two top 50 teams in Michigan and Houston, and they can do it again. The news about forward Jeremy Combs’ season (and possibly basketball playing career) being over is heartbreaking, but the game Friday night saw the return of junior guard Brandon Sampson, a key component in the defensive scheme before his injury.
Without further adieu, let’s hop into the SEC schedule with each game’s projected outcome by KenPom.
January 3rd: Kentucky (4 point loss)
January 13th: Alabama (1 point loss)
January 16th: Georgia (2 point win)
January 23rd: Texas A&M (8 point loss)
February 3rd: Arkansas (5 point loss)
February 10th: Ole Miss (3 point win)
February 17th: Mizzou (1 point win)
February 20th: Vanderbilt (3 point win)
March 3rd: Mississippi State (2 point win)
On the surface, the Tigers are expected to finish 5-4 at home, with just about every game to stay really tight. The home opener against Kentucky could really prove to set the tone for the entire schedule, as a win or even a strong showing could help prepare the team for the rest of the season. Keep in mind the Tigers only won a single conference contest in the PMAC last year...
January 6th: Texas A&M (15 point loss)
January 10th: Arkansas (11 point loss)
January 20th: Vanderbilt (4 point loss)
January 27th: Auburn (9 point loss)
January 31st: Tennessee (12 point loss)
February 7th: Florida (10 point loss)
February 13th: Alabama (8 point loss)
February 24th: Georgia (5 point loss)
February 28th: South Carolina (5 point loss)
Well, that’s a lot less forgiving. As opposed to the home schedule showing eight “toss-ups,” or two possession games, the away schedule is essentially guaranteeing six losses. Keep in mind that’s only really considering what every team has shown so far, and so far the Tigers have played over half their games without a healthy starter in Brandon Sampson. These projections can and do change after every single game, but it wouldn’t be the wisest move to expect a top half finish for the Tigers at this point.
LSU has a top 25 offense at best, top 40 at worst. The Tigers will sneak away with some close wins that they may have no business winning, but for the most part, the personnel for a competitive defense just isn’t there at the moment. There are weaker offenses like Mississippi State and South Carolina to give them a break, but this team has got to improve on defense if they even want to dream of finishing near .500 in the SEC. Fortunately, they’re in a different situation than last year. They’ve got a coach who recognizes the weakness, and just might know how to fix it, or at the very least adapt.