After getting days one and two off, the LSU finally takes the Bridgestone Arena floor as the Tigers (26-5, 16-2) play the Florida Gators (18-14, 9-9) in the quarterfinal round of the SEC tournament.
What's more, they'll get to do it with star freshman Javonte Smart, now cleared of an NCAA investigation.
Florida advanced to the quarterfinal round after beating the Arkansas Razorbacks 66-50 Thursday afternoon. Florida still resides squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble. Getting a win Thursday was nice, but it will almost definitely take a win over LSU to be on the right side of the bracket.
Florida and LSU played to a 1-1 split in the regular season. The road team was victorious both times and each game went into overtime. The last time Florida and LSU played, Tremont Waters drove across the court and made a layup with half a second remaining to force overtime where the Tigers would hold on for dear life.
Of course, as The Advocate reported yesterday, LSU won’t let Wade return from the suspension until he discusses the wiretaps with university officials; but Wade’s legal counsel told the school’s powers that be that Wade will talk after the federal criminal investigation concludes. Trial starts April 22. Both sides are digging in their heels and it doesn’t appear to change anytime soon.
As for Smart, LSU questioned both him and his mother about his name appearing on the wiretap and the NCAA was present in those interviews. LSU clearly felt confident in their answers to allow him back.
All the drama off the court pushed aside, LSU finally returns to the court after a near-week long break. LSU last played Saturday and it was under Tony Benford’s lead. LSU is the tournament’s No. 1 seed thanks to its 16-2 league record.
The Tigers are a definite lock for the NCAA tournament. Where they may be placed is still up in the air, and LSU will be playing for seeding on top of an SEC tournament title. It starts with Florida, a team that Wade said gives LSU problems. Wade predicted after the Tigers lost to the Gators in February that a team like Florida would be the one to end their season.
Florida is as stout as they come defensively. The Gators are 13th in KenPom defensive efficiency, and they’ve held opponents under 57 points on ten different occasions. In the two games between the Tigers and Gators, Florida held LSU to 43 percent from the floor and forced 14 turnovers eaach time. Both times LSU shot less than 70 percent from the free throw line. Drawing Florida in their first game in Nashville is a bad break for LSU, but as the NCAA tournament looms, the Tigers need to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Tipoff is set for noon and the game can be seen ESPN.