5-ON-5: LSU VS. KENTUCKY

Jeff Drummond of AllWildcats.com and Ben Love of TigerSportsDigest.com teamed up to preview tonight's big matchup in Baton Rouge between LSU and No. 1 Kentucky.

LSU (17-6, 6-4) welcomes in Kentucky (23-0, 10-0), the nation's top team, for a 6 p.m. Central Time tipoff Tuesday night.

Many have pegged this as arguably the toughest challenge of the regular season for the history-chasing Wildcats. Below, a pair of Scout publishers provide their responses to five important topics/questions to get you ready for the action.

All "UK" responses are provided by AW publisher Jeff Drummond while "LSU" responses come from TSD publisher Ben Love.

1. Most Valuable Player in SEC Play

UK: It could be argued that Kentucky's MVP in SEC play has been freshman guard Devin Booker to date. He's been UK's most consistent player all season long, thanks in large part to shooting over 50 percent from 3-point range for most of the season. But with this team, it can literally be five or six different players, depending on the night. It's been Karl-Anthony Towns the last two games (34 points, 21 rebounds, six assists, four blocked shots). He's coming on strong.



LSU relies on Mickey's defense
LSU: There’s no debate for the Tigers; it’s sophomore forward Jordan Mickey. In a rarity all of Mickey’s statistical averages have risen in SEC play. Through 10 games he’s averaging 17.9 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.7 blocks while shooting 52.7 percent from the floor. The Dallas native hasn’t been the best on-ball defender in the post, but he is lethal blocking shots from the backside. His mid-range jumper has improved, too, making him a harder cover on the other end. About the only area he’s been mediocre? Free throws. Mickey is shooting 66.2 percent from the stripe in SEC games, which has hurt LSU considering he’s attempted 15 more than any other Tiger.

2. Wildcard (If he plays well, his team is almost impossible to beat)

UK: This is most certainly Willie Cauley-Stein. He's the ultimate difference-maker with what he brings to the table on the defensive end of the floor. If he's right – and often it's a matter of being mentally focused with WCS – he spearheads the best defense in recent memory. He's a guy that can defend your 7-footer in the low post or check your quick point guard beyond the arc. Kentucky's had some great defenders in recent years, including Anthony Davis and Nerlens Noel, but neither had the ability to both reject a lot of shots and defend smaller opponents off the dribble like WCS has.

LSU: That guy for LSU is Tim Quarterman, although his role seems to be changing. Quarterman, a 6-foot-6 sophomore who plays the one through the three, and freshman guard Jalyn Patterson moved into the starting lineup versus Alabama Saturday. That robs the Tigers of Quarterman’s energy off the bench, but it does put LSU’s “finishing lineup” on the floor a lot earlier. In SEC games Quarterman is posting the following averages: 13.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He’s the swiss-army weapon for LSU, also likely to guard the opposition’s best perimeter player. The Tigers seldom lose when he outscores his average.

3. How is this year’s team different than last year’s?



Harrison continues to be clutch for UK
UK: The most obvious thing you'll see is more experience and physical maturity from the Harrison Twins. They both carry themselves with more confidence than they had as freshmen, and there's less of the bad body language that often (sometimes incorrectly) tagged them as bad teammates or selfish players. Everyone around them says that couldn't be further from the truth. They are hard on themselves, though. The other thing is this team is much more consistent shooting the ball from the perimeter. It was hit-and-miss last year with streaky Aaron Harrison and James Young being the primary threats, but they now have both Harrisons, Booker and Tyler Ulis all shooting the ball well from beyond the arc.

LSU: Minus Johnny O’Bryant, a two-time All-SEC performer in the paint, LSU is a little lighter inside. His absence has created more shots and opportunities for Mickey and Jarell Martin, but those two play a different style than JOB, operating facing the basket and, in Martin’s case, from the perimeter at times. Defensively it has left a hole at the five spot for the Tigers, one head coach Johnny Jones has attempted to fill with at least three players (lately settling on 7-foot Aussie Darcy Malone). On the flip side LSU is longer and becoming deeper in the backcourt than it was a season ago. The addition of Keith Hornsby has helped in both of these regards.

4. What advantages do you think your team has in this game?

UK: Kentucky's depth and ability to roll two full lineups of talented players in and out of the game is probably the biggest advantage. This gives the Wildcats a lot of margin for error. If a guy isn't playing well – or maybe two or three guys – there are good options to compensate. Andrew Harrison is struggling? No problem, insert Tyler Ulis. Aaron Harrison not finding his shooting touch? Devin Booker comes in shooting almost 50 percent from 3 on the season. Karl-Anthony Towns not playing to his ability? Here comes Dakari Johnson. They don't rely on anyone to carry them.

LSU: The strongest advantage for LSU Tuesday night will be in the stands. Last year the two teams met in Baton Rouge amid an ice storm, and, improbably, there were 6,500 people in attendance (to see an LSU win) despite the city more or less being closed down. Expect almost double that number in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center tonight. On the court the Tigers could have an advantage in Martin. It depends on which Jarell shows up. If it’s the attacking-but-under-control version, I’m not sure Kentucky has a player that can check Martin, 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds but with perimeter abilities. Perhaps Cauley-Stein can, but it would wear him out and slap some fouls on him, for sure.

5. What areas concern you about your team’s matchup?

UK: Kentucky, at times, has struggled to finish around the basket with its bigs. No one really knows why. They're talented and bigger than almost every opponent they face, but they get a lot of shots blocked down low. We all know this is something that LSU can do quite well. If UK has an off shooting night from the arc, it's got danger written all over it. I've said since before the season started that this was the toughest date on the Cats' schedule. It comes just three days after Florida had an out-of-body experience in pushing UK to the wire, now the Cats have to get mentally focused to go into a tough atmosphere on a short turnaround. I would not be surprised at all if LSU handed them their first loss.



How Will Martin attack Kentucky?
LSU: There are a number of areas, and that’s a credit to how deep and impossibly long Kentucky is. LSU likes to get up and down, scoring an average of 74.5 points a game. I don’t believe they’ll be able to play that way, or in that scoring range, against the length of the Cats. The Tigers will have to show they can win a close, lower-scoring game. That hasn’t happened often for LSU in SEC play. Another concern is the Tigers’ ability to compete in the post. It will be a huge win for LSU if Trey Lyles (illness) isn’t able to go. If he does play there may be too many talented, big bodies for the Tigers to contest. Mickey can’t do it all and Martin sometimes has to be coaxed to get down there and bang for boards. Beyond them there’s just not much depth inside.

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TSD is running a day-long thread devoted to the LSU-Kentucky game, a free thread that will continue rolling into and through the game with live updates and postgame quotes from players and coaches.

Check it out in the link below and let your voice be heard!



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