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Do Not Wake the Sleeping Tiger

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Hoops is having a dream season, so let’s keep dreaming

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Kentucky
It’s just a dream....
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, it looked like the alarm was going off, waking LSU from its dream season.

The Tigers had spent weeks walking a high wire, staking teams to huge leads, only to come storming back in the second half to sneak out a victory. It looked like they had pulled the trick one too many times, and somehow LSU lost to Arkansas, one of the worst teams in the SEC this season.

Worse yet, LSU had built its gaudy record against a series of escapes against the lesser half of the conference. The Tigers best win in the computers was over #38 Ole Miss. A murderer’s row of games awaited the team, three top 25 squads, two on the road, and closing out with a game in Rupp, a place where LSU rarely wins.

Only the dream didn’t die. LSU did stake out its opponents to big leads, particularly Auburn, but just like they had all season, they came storming back in the second half. In the span of seven days, LSU notched its three most impressive wins of the season, each bigger than the last.

It almost didn’t happen. We could be having a very different discussion right now or worse yet, not talking about LSU basketball at all. LSU needed a late rally and then overtime to beat Mississippi St. in Starkville. And LSU’s win in Rupp required the officials to ignore offensive goaltending at the buzzer.

Hey, when you’ve only won in Rupp once since Pearl Jam’s debut album, you’ll take the help. Especially when ten seconds earlier it looked like a little home cooking was going to help the Wildcats escape yet again.

But LSU got those twin miracles on the road and now LSU boasts two wins over KenPom top 25 teams on the road. That’s the thin line between a dream season and waking up to a nightmare.

Sure, this thing could still end at any moment. Tennessee still looms on the schedule as do two games against Florida, a program against whom LSU has not exactly excelled. But LSU is through the toughest part of its schedule, and have emerged from it stronger than before. They have transformed from paper tigers to real ones.

They also profile as a team that could do serious damage in the NCAA tournament with a good draw. They rank 13th in Offensive Efficiency and 46th in Defense. Only 25 teams in the country are top 50 in both offense and defense, showing LSU has demonstrable balance.

LSU has a deep frontcourt rotation, they can rebound better than nearly anyone in the country which should mean extra possessions, and they have their not-so-secret weapon: an elite point guard in Tre Waters. When it comes down to crunch time, the ball will be in the hands of their best player and even if, like Kentucky, you double team him to deny him the ball, Skyler Mays can kill you instead.

OK, LSU is a miserable three-point shooting team, but the good news is, they have finally realized it and they don’t try to jack up a ton of threes like they did earlier in the year. LSU knows that while its guards are elite ballhandlers, the team needs to finish around the rim. This team attacks the rim and makes things happen in the lane. They aren’t reliant on a good shooting night from the outside, but instead rely upon the effort of their bigs on the inside. Effort doesn’t have a cold shooting night.

Is this LSU team good enough to win the whole thing? Probably not. LSU has eked out a ton of close victories, and they still have the bad habit of falling behind early, something that will eventually catch up to you. LSU has a talented roster, but it’s not as stacked with future NBA lottery picks as, say, Duke. LSU looks like a good team that’s been playing over its head.

But for right now, why not dream? No one has set an alarm. And sometimes, dreams come true.