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GAMETHREAD: Basketball vs. #17 Kentucky, 7:30pm, SEC Network, Gold Game

LSU opens conference play against the SEC gold standard

NCAA Basketball: Vanderbilt at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Given the weather and the difficulty of the first four games of 2018, this isn’t exactly the warmest welcome to the SEC for Will Wade.

LSU (9-3) returned from Memphis last week with a ten point victory over the previously undefeated-at-home Tigers. Meanwhile, Kentucky (11-2) finished their 2017 with two wins in three days, knocking off in-state rival Louisville and opening their conference play with a 66-61 win against Georgia to improve to a perfect 10-0 in Rupp Arena. Tonight’s game is not in Rupp Arena, and it’s actually the first true road game for the Wildcats this season.

Kentucky is a team that never needs a full analysis or introduction; you already know they’re great. They are currently ranked 18th overall by KenPom, with a top 30 offense and a top 15 defense. The Wildcats boast five wins over top 100 teams, and their only two losses were against Kansas and UCLA, both at neutral sites. They’re young, tall, strong, and one of the best teams on transition plays LSU will see all year. I know I’ve said this a few times, but I mean it when I say the Tigers will need to play their best game of the year so far, especially on defense.

One particular aspect of tonight’s game to watch out for, as Coach Wade mentioned on the radio show last night, will be the rebounding game. Both LSU and Kentucky rank in the top 20 in offensive rebounding, yet neither team cracks the top 200 in defensive rebounding. That’s to be expected from LSU, but it’s a puzzling statistic for the supposed 15th best defense in the nation. If Aaron Epps and Duop Reath can stay out of foul trouble tonight, the Tigers may be able to exploit Kentucky’s one true defensive weakness.

Will Wade may be young and new to the SEC, but he couldn’t be more aware of how big of a game this could be for his Tigers.

“The bigger the game, the narrower the focus. You just have to hone in on doing what you’re supposed to do,” said Wade at yesterday’s Tipoff Luncheon. “Everyone on our team has a role and I told them to read their role card. All we need you to do is do your job. Do it completely and stick with our plan.”

“This is the type of team where, if you let up for two or three minutes, it’s over,” Wade continued. “They’ll go on a 12-0 run and you’re done, you might as well go home. It takes 40 complete minutes of strict adherence to what you’re doing and great discipline to do all the little things.”

Kentucky has faster, stronger, and undoubtedly better talent than LSU’s current squad, that’s no secret. But if everyone is able to stick to their role and focus on the little things, there’s no reason Coach Wade couldn’t be celebrating his 101st win tonight.

Projected Kentucky Wildcats Starting 5

#3 G - Hamidou Diallo: 14.9ppg, 1.8apg, 29.0 minutes

#5 F - Kevin Knox: 14.5ppg, 5.6rpg, 32.9 minutes

#22 G - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: 11.6ppg, 4.2apg, 28.6 minutes

#25 F - PJ Washington: 10.0ppg, 5.2rpg, 25.7 minutes

#0 G - Quade Green: 10.8ppg, 3.5apg, 23.7 minutes

The Tigers have a chance to pull off the upset, and they’ll need the PMAC to help. If you’re one of the lucky thousands who will be in attendance tonight, please remember to wear gold and be loud as hell. Tonight’s game tips off at 7:30pm on the SEC Network. You can listen to the radio broadcast on 98.1 FM, join in the comments below, or follow my live tweets of the game @marq113.