For the first time all season, LSU basketball is in position to play an important game, a game that actually means something.
That's because both the Tigers and Volunteers have postseason possibilities on the line, with the two teams – tied with Georgia for seventh in the SEC – gunning for a berth in the NIT.
Needless to say intensity won't be hard to find tonight when LSU (15-8, 6-6) and Tennessee (14-10, 6-6), two of the league's hottest teams, tip inside Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville at 6 p.m. Central Time. ESPNU will have the television broadcast.
Here are the projected starting lineups for Tuesday night's contest.
LSU (15-8, 6-6)
G Anthony Hickey (So., 5-11, 178) – 11.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.9 apg
G Andre Stringer (Jr., 5-10, 182) – 10.7 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 40.3% 3s
G Malik Morgan (Fr., 6-4, 188) – 5.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.5 spg
F Johnny O'Bryant (So., 6-9, 258) – 13.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.0 O-rpg
C Andrew Del Piero (Sr., 7-3, 254) – 4.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 58.6% FGs
Key Rotational Players: G Charles Carmouche (Sr., 6-4, 187; averages 9.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.6 apg) and F Shavon Coleman (Jr., 6-5, 195; averages 10.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 1.3 spg)
Tennessee (14-10, 6-6)
G Trae Golden (Jr., 6-2, 205) – 11.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.0 apg
G Jordan McRae (Jr., 6-5, 178) – 13.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.8 apg
G Josh Richardson (So., 6-6, 188) – 7.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 50.3% FGs
G Armani Moore (Fr., 6-5, 203) – 2.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 41.1% FGs
F Jarnell Stokes (So., 6-8, 270) – 12.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 54.8% FGs
Key Rotational Players: F Kenny Hall (Sr., 6-9, 230; averages 6.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg and shoots 54.1% FGs) and G Skylar McBee (Sr., 6-3, 195; averages 5.4 ppg and shoots 86.7% FTs)
The Vols enter tonight's game winners of three straight, with the most recent victory a resounding 88-58 thumping of No. 25 Kentucky (playing its first game without stud forward Nerlens Noel).
Cuonzo Martin's team has had to take a similar path to Johnny Jones' Tigers after Rocky Top got off to an 0-3 start in conference play. Since, the Volunteers have feasted on the league's bottom dwellers (much like LSU) in Mississippi State, South Carolina and Vanderbilt (twice), but UT also squeaked out a win against Alabama, the SEC's second-ranked team behind Florida.
Sophomore power forward Jarnell Stokes has fueled Tennessee's run.
Check out the lines the Memphis native has posted over the past seven games: 15 points and 18 rebounds vs. Alabama; 19 and 11 vs. Vanderbilt; 18 and 10 at Arkansas; 16 and 11 vs. Georgia; 20 and 10 at South Carolina; 17 and 10 at Vanderbilt; and 9 and 9 in the blowout over Kentucky.
What all of that means is that Johnny O'Bryant will have to pick on somebody his own size to continue his similarly blazing hot streak for LSU. That'll definitely be the matchup of the game to monitor: two double-double machines going head-to-head in Stokes (6-8, 270) and O'Bryant (6-9, 258).
May the strongest man win.
Elsewhere for the Tigers, the matchups don't look as good on paper in terms of size. UT's four starting guards all range from 6-2 to 6-6, meaning Anthony Hickey will have to keep a hand up on junior Trae Golden and Andre Stringer may need some occasional help on 6-5 Jordan McRae.
If LSU's guards can play physical and help on the glass, it would go a long way to offsetting the height differential. Otherwise, expect junior forward Jalen Courtney to assist Shavon Coleman in picking up the slack defensively.
One other thing to note is how strong the Volunteer crowds have been this season at home. The UT press release says Tennessee currently ranks sixth nationally in average home attendance at 17,070 fans. LSU will have to recall and learn from experiences at Boise State, Marquette, Kentucky and Alabama to tune out what figures to be a large crowd in Knoxville.
Finally, here's a quote from Johnny Jones on Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes.
"He's just a grown man," said Jones on Monday. "He's very physical. He's strong and probably about as physical and strong as a person that we've seen this year outside of probably out of (Patric) Young from Florida. He has great ability around the basket. I think he's shooting around 50 percent from the field, and that's a great number. He's averaging about eight rebounds, so he's a big load to really have to deal with. This guy is very mobile, extremely strong and has a great motor. He has a really good ability to play and play with a sense of urgency so it'll be a great challenge for our post guys."
PREVIEW: LSU vs. Tennessee
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