In Winning at Kentucky, LSU Proves Itself to be Among SEC Elite

Posted by David Changas on February 13th, 2019

In getting off to a superb 9-1 start in SEC play, LSU served notice that it should be taken seriously in the conference race. But in comparison with the golden resumes of top-five stalwarts Tennessee and Kentucky, there were lingering concerns about whether the Tigers were quite at their level. While much of the college basketball world had its sights on Saturday night’s blockbuster clash between Tennessee and Kentucky, LSU entered Lexington last night with a chip on its shoulder. After falling behind 48-39 with 16:51 left to play, Will Wade‘s club began to attack the basket with regularity. The result of a raucous final few minutes was a 73-71 win in Rupp Arena on a controversial last-second tip-in by Kavell Bigby-Williams.

Wins at Rupp Arena Are Not Easy to Come By (USA Today Images)

Based on the stellar recruiting Wade has done since arriving in Baton Rouge two years ago, expectations for the LSU program were reasonably high coming into the season. Early losses to Florida State and Oklahoma State in the Advocare Invitational tempered some of that excitement, but a strong start to conference play slowly garnered some fringe national attention. The problem was the schedule: Coming into Tuesday night’s game, LSU’s most impressive victories had come in the last week (at Mississippi State and versus Auburn in Baton Rouge). But everyone knew Kentucky, which had reeled off nine straight SEC wins of its own, would present an entirely different challenge. Now, after pulling off the upset, LSU has solidified its status as a contender and is well-positioned to make a serious run at the SEC title. The Tigers, which are now 6-0 on the road in SEC play, have winnable road games left against Georgia, Alabama and Florida, and other than a looming showdown with #1 Tennessee on February 23, they will be heavy favorites to win their remaining home contests. If they can take care of the Volunteers, a share of the regular season championship, at minimum, is likely.

LSU’s success comes from their offensive balance and keen ability to penetrate the lane. Despite their struggles from the perimeter – they shoot a paltry 32.7 percent from deep — they are an elite offensive team, ranking 13th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom. They succeed on that end of the floor because they are very effective in getting to the basket and crashing the offensive glass. As an example from last night’s game, the Tigers made 14 of their 21 second-half shots from inside the arc. Freshmen Naz Reid and Ja’Vonte Smart have both lived up to their billing as elite recruits, and the quickness of Tremont Waters at the point of attack is very difficult to handle. Given Wade’s track record and his ability to attract top talent, LSU’s success in year two of his rebuild should not be a surprise — rather, that the Tigers are already among the cream of the SEC crop this quickly should be.

David Changas (164 Posts)


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