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College Basketball Preview: LSU vs. Kentucky

LSU Tigers at Kentucky Wildcats
Rupp Arena – Lexington, KY
Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011
Time: 4:00 pm EST

TV: SEC Network - Carter Blackburn (play-by-play) and Mike Gottfried (analyst)
Radio: Blue Blue Sports Network - Tom Leach (play-by-play) and Mike Pratt (analyst)
Series History: UK leads 79-24 (39-5 in Lexington)

Expected LSU Starting Five
F – 5 Malcom White (JR, 6-9, 225)
F – 13 Eddie Ludwig (SO, 6-9, 215)
F – 21 Matt Derenbecker (FR, 6-7, 185)
G – 10 Andre Stringer (FR, 5-9, 170)
G – 45 Aaron Dotson (SO, 6-4, 205)

The LSU Tigers enter Saturday’s matchup at Rupp Arena with a 2-0 record in SEC play, with wins at Auburn and against Arkansas at home. Neither of which is particularly impressive, but if the Tigers want to make a run and win a deplorable SEC West, these are the wins they need to get.

They entered conference play with an 8-7 record, lacking any quality win to speak of. However, they did lose games to Nichols State, Coastal Carolina, Wichita State, North Texas and Rice.

With the recruits that Trent Johnson is bringing in next year, it looks like they will continue to get better. But they aren’t quite there yet. They have the ability to make noise in the SEC West, but that is about it.

Like Kentucky, this is an extremely young team that relies on mainly freshmen and sophomores. Of the 345 schools that play D-I basketball, the Tigers rank 327 in experience. Their two top leading scorers are both freshmen is Ralston Turner, who averages 13.7 points and has 11 double figure games, and Andre Stringer, 13.6 points and 11 double figure contests.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, it appears that they will be forced to play their third strait game without Turner, as he is out with a stress reaction in his right foot.

Because of that youth, head coach Trent Johnson has been forced to alter his playing style a bit. In the past, Johnson’s teams have played primarily man-to-man defense. This year, their youth is forcing them to switch to zone.

They will primarily mix up a 2-3 and 3-2 zone, occasionally sprinkling in man, but in their first two SEC wins their man-to-man looks have been extremely rare. This zone allows the Tigers to prevent penetration as a unit instead of forcing defenders to do it one-on-one, something that Johnson quickly perceived as an issue when they began practice.

I look for Kentucky to push the ball in an attempt to keep them from getting their zone defense set up. When they do get settled into their 2-3 or 3-2, the ‘Cats can’t settle for jumpshots. Instead, they have to concentrate on penetrating gaps and getting the ball into the middle to collapse the zone.

On offense you will see the Tigers use a lot of clock. They do not want to run. They want to keep possessions to a minimum and completely slow the game down.

With Turner more than likely out, the scoring burden for the Tigers falls on Stringer. He is an outstanding shooter who can step three to four feet beyond arc and knock it down. On the season he has already knocked down 35 threes and is shooting 35-percent from distance. He has a quick release and doesn’t need very much time to get his shot off. He is not shy with it either. Despite the fact that the Tigers do not like to run, he is known to pull from deep with 28 to 30 seconds remaining on the shot clock.

He is also their best distributor of the basketball and leads the team in assists with 3.0 per game. He is also averaging 2.4 turnovers per contest. Rarely will Stringer leave the court for extended minutes and when junior Chris Bass comes in to run the point, Johnson slides Stringer over to the two-guard position.

Aaron Dodson mans the other guard position for the Tigers. He is a versatile guard that is solid defensively, can handle the ball, and is a decent shooter. He is averaging 7.4 points-per-game, hitting 12 threes on the year, while shooting 44-percent from deep.

He does a lot of different things for LSU and is finally healthy after suffering through a knee injury in high school. With the injury behind him, he appears to be playing with a lot more confidence.

In the back court they lack depth and the injury to Turner is causing even more problems for them. But, they have size and depth in their front court and it is something that could cause concern for John Calipari and the Cats. In fact, they are coming off of a game against Arkansas where they outrebounded the Hogs, 43-26.

They are led on the interior by Malcom White, a transfer out of Ole Miss. White is third on the team in scoring 8.9 points and second on the team in rebounding with 5.6 per game. The Tigers’ leading rebounder is Storm Warren, whose minutes have been limited due to tendinitis in his knee.

Someone that is really stepping up for LSU underneath is junior Garrett Green. He is averaging just 6.5 points-per-game but has three strait contests in double figures. The talent is there for Green, he just needs some consistency and it looks like it might finally be coming. A lot of his inconsistencies can be credited to chronic back issues, but he appears to finally be healthy.

A 6-10, Green is very active on the glass and he is an effective passer out of the high post. When he has the ball on the block and is trying to score he will try to do too much at times, but this is a kid that has really good hands for a big man and continued improvement on his behalf will do wonders for the Tigers. He will come off the bench for Trent Johnson, but expect him to get plenty of minutes.

Freshman Matt Derenbecker is another player that is really coming on for the Tigers. He is a heady player that shoots it well and has really good touch around the basket. He is extremely effective at driving to his left and runs the floor well for a player of his size. He is averaging just 5.8 points on the year, but has scored in double figures in three of his last four games. In those four games he is averaging 11 points and that includes the Virginia game where he did not get on the board.

After watching LSU play Arkansas on Wednesday I realized that this is a better LSU team than I originally gave them credit for. Like I mentioned above, they have some young talent and with the recruits and transfers that Trent Johnson is bringing in next year the opportunity is there for them to be a lot better.

In both of their SEC wins they built decisive first half leads and then held on late to win. In fact, they held Auburn to six points in the first half before barely hanging on. In both of those games LSU’s opponent extended pressure in both the half court and the full court and it rattled the Tigers’ young back court.

LSU’s size and depth underneath is something that UK may be concerned about. But, their lack of depth in the back court is something that UK has to take advantage of. They lack a real point guard and when pressured they have proven that they will turn the ball over. On the season they are averaging 15 turnovers a game.

This is a game that Kentucky should win. To do so, they can’t allow LSU’s bigs to control the glass and they have to rattle their guards. They will also increase their chances of extending their lead if they can increase the pace. LSU does not want to run up and down the floor with the Wildcats.

Kentucky 74, LSU 62


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