The LSU Tigers, bloodied and bruised after weeks of below-average basketball, snapped into focus this past Saturday against the Texas A&M Aggies, now they’ll host Arkansas.
By Matt Zemek
LSU looked a lot more like the team we saw in January, chiefly at the defensive end of the floor. LSU had been allowing a lot of opponents to score in the 80s in recent weeks. The Tigers got sick and tired of being sick and tired against A&M, holding the Aggies to just 50 points. This is what Will Wade badly needed to see before the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. The Tigers didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. They needed to play harder and with more clarity. They did that, and now comes a chance to show that they can sustain their improvements.
The Bayou Bengals face a very tough road assignment in Fayetteville against the Arkansas Razorbacks. This game is a must-win for the Hogs in their pursuit of an NCAA Tournament bid. Arkansas was on the road to the Big Dance, but drove off the road into a ditch against the Georgia Bulldogs this past Saturday. Arkansas absorbed a bad loss, meaning the Razorbacks have to bounce back and grab a quality win if they want to have a realistic shot at the NCAA Tournament. Arkansas’ urgency is precisely what will make LSU’s task a lot tougher. The Tigers need to show that they can meet a challenge on the road against an inspired opponent. That would prove they are ready to regain their January mojo and enter postseason play with a full head of steam.
1 – Energy
Are we going to see the full defensive commitment against Arkansas which was apparent against A&M? We can talk about players or one-on-one matchups or various statistical categories all we want, but if LSU’s defensive effort and its hunger on the offensive glass aren’t where they need to be, this team probably won’t win against the determined Razorbacks… or any other difficult opponent. It all goes back to work ethic with this team. When it locks in and competes, LSU is a very tough out.
2 – Stop the flow of Isaiah Joe
Arkansas might still make the NCAA Tournament because the selection committee will notice that Arkansas played extremely well with Isaiah Joe in the lineup, and very poorly in the small cluster of games he missed due to knee surgery midway through the SEC season. The dramatic difference in Arkansas based on whether Joe plays is a strong statement about his importance. He is clearly the MVP of this Razorback squad. Consequently, LSU has to focus its defensive attention on him. Mason Jones is a high-quality player to be sure, but Joe is the heartbeat of the Hogs. LSU has to monitor that heartbeat and not Joe to run Hog wild.
3 – The offensive glass
LSU crushed Arkansas on the offensive backboard in the first meeting this season between the two teams. Arkansas allowed 13 offensive rebounds to Georgia this past weekend, part of the Hogs’ no-show at the defensive end of the floor in a 99-89 loss. LSU, if it can thump Arkansas on the glass, can accumulate a lot of added possessions and make it harder for the Hogs to find a path to victory.