The LSU men’s basketball team is spending its Thanksgiving in Destin as the Tigers are partaking in the 2021 Emerald Coast Classic, one of the seemingly dozens of early season tournaments.
For whatever reason, LSU has struggled in these types of tourneys under Will Wade. Since Wade took over in the 2017-18 season, LSU is 4-7 in these games. These games are early resumé builders for the big dance and more often than not LSU blows these opportunities (see Saint Louis last season, the Utah State game in Jamaica in 2019, or Florida State game in Orlando in 2018).
LSU’s looked great through its first five games, but Friday and Saturday will be the team’s first games against Power 5 teams. On paper LSU’s the favorite to win the Classic but games aren’t won on paper, they’re won on the court. Let’s dive in.
Penn State: (3-1), 88th in KenPom
LSU’s opponent Friday night, the Nittany Lions currently have three guys averaging double digit points led by Binghamton transfer Sam Sessoms. Sessoms would be Penn State’s version of Cam Thomas in that he’s the leading scorer but is a high volume shooter, needing 16 shots (22 including free throws) to score 19 points. The Nittany Lions don’t move the ball and its assist to turnover ratio is a perfect 1:1; that’s begging for trouble against the new look. LSU defense that is forcing turnovers at an absurd rate (21 per game including 13.8 steals per game).
Penn State doesn’t really have the size to challenge a Tari Eason or Efton Reid. They do have fifth year senior John Hararr however and he’s been a force inside averaging 11 points and 12 rebounds; he’s a classic back to the basket type of big man and has taken exactly zero threes this season so he won’t extend the LSU defense.
Penn State’s just an okay basketball team that will more than likely finish at or near the bottom of the Big 10 this year, this ought to be a game LSU wins comfortably.
Oregon State: (1-4), 103rd in KenPom
Wake Forest: (5-0), 90th in KenPom
The Beavers. darlings of last season’s NCAA Tournament, haven’t had nearly the same success that fueled its Elite Eight run. They’ve lost four in a row highlighted (lowlighted?) by home losses to Samford and Princeton. It’s been a letdown in Corvallis as the Beavers were picked fourth in the Pac 12 but perhaps if they can right the ship in Destin they’ll be ready for Cal and Arizona next week.
Wake Forest, on the other hand, is 5-0 but have beaten up on mid majors. Now LSU has blown out mid majors too but Liberty and Belmont are likely NCAA Tournament teams; West Carolina, Charleston Southern, Kennesaw State, William and Mary, and North Carolina A&T (Wake Forest’s first five opponents) aren’t. Wake Forest, like Penn State, was picked to finish towards the bottom of the conference, and if the Deacons do play LSU, either in tomorrow’s winners game or losers game, I’d expect it get pretty ugly.
The winner of Friday’s nightcap plays the winner of LSU-Penn State at 6:00 tomorrow night, while the losers today play a consolation game at 3:00. All games will be televised on CBS Sports, and Mike Grace will be filling in for Chris Blair on Eagle 98.1.