We’ve reached the halfway point of conference play, and the No. 18 LSU men’s basketball team (17-4, 8-0) is the atop the SEC as the only unbeaten team in the league.
Next up for LSU is a chance to improve to 9-0 and the Tigers get lowly Vanderbilt (8-13, 0-8), losers of 28 straight SEC games. Last season Vanderbilt infamously became the first team in SEC history to go 0-19 in conference games, and so far this year’s Commodore team has doing little to inspire confidence in history not repeating itself in Nashville.
LSU and Vanderbilt are on totally opposite trajectories right now. What’s more, LSU is now starting to flex its muscles and play like a Top-25 team. After winning six consecutive games by four points or fewer, LSU has won back-to-back contests by 14 and 10 points respectively. Against Ole Miss Saturday, LSU led 40-16 a minute before halftime.
The knock on LSU was that it needed to build a killer instinct, especially against lesser competition. Consider the challenge met and if it needed any fine tuning, Vanderbilt is the perfect opponent to put in a headlock and make them tap out.
Offensively, LSU is one of the most efficient teams in America. The Tigers have five players (Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Emmitt Williams, Trendon Watford and Darius Days) averaging 10 or more points.
The same can’t be said of Vanderbilt, especially without leading scorer Aaron Nesmith or starting center Clevon Brown. Nesmith has a foot fracture that’s kept him from playing since the SEC opener; Brown, on the other hand, went down with a knee injury in mid-December and the Commodores have gone 2-10 over that stretch.
Getting to 0-8 in SEC play isn’t done by accident; Vanderbilt has been getting killed by the rest of the league. After Auburn survived a major scare from Vanderbilt in the SEC opener, the Commodores lost its next five games by 19, 20, 21, 25 and 26 points.
But Vanderbilt has played better its last two times on the court. Vanderbilt had a 10-point lead on Kentucky in Rupp and lost by six against Florida. Playing in Vanderbilt also means playing on that funky raised court of theirs so LSU can’t expect to just show up and win. The Tigers were beaten by mid-major East Tennessee State in the PMAC two months ago. Losing a road conference game, even to a team that’s lost 27 straight SEC games, isn’t the most impossible thing that can happen in college basketball. If LSU’s caught looking ahead to Saturday’s game against Auburn, they might be coming back home with its winning streak snapped.