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.
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?
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.
---------------------------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!