LSU Presents Tall Challenge… Literally

Four games remain in the Gator basketball team's regular season and I think it's safe to say the toughest to win is the next one. Florida is heading to Baton Rouge for a Tuesday night game with the LSU Tigers. LSU leads the SEC with an 11-1 conference record and like the Gators are unbeaten at home in league play.

They lead the overall SEC race by three games and are four up on second place Mississippi State in the Western Division.

The thing that makes LSU an extra-tough matchup for the Gators is the fact that the Tigers are a tall team that is great on the glass. In SEC games the Tigers are an impressive plus-6.9 on the boards. Contrast that with the Gators' minus-2.8 and you have a real concern. LSU is the second highest scoring team in SEC games, averaging 78.6 in league play, just behind the Gators (79.0). However LSU is also second-best in the SEC on the defensive end, holding opponents to 67.3. The Gators on the other hand are right in the middle of the pack, tied for sixth place (72.0) in that category.

Personnel-wise the Bayou Bengals boast a pair of athletic, talented wings who are a match up nightmare. Marcus Thornton (22.3/6.1) is 6-4 and quick. Tasmin Mitchell (20.0/8.3) is 6-7 and strong. The other guy who Florida has to try and cope with is center Chris Johnson (9.1/8.7) who is the second best shot blocker in the SEC with 46. Add in Bo Spencer (10.8) and Garrett Temple (7.4) and you have a starting five that combined for 68 points in SEC games. They also play a lot of minutes, averaging 32 minutes each. The Gators get more points (10.9) and almost as many minutes (24) off the bench from Erving Walker alone.

LSU has been playing more close games lately after dominating the first part of the SEC schedule. That might be a sign that they are starting to tire from the grind of the SEC race and the high number of minutes the top five players. The Gators have a 2-4 record in SEC road games, but three of those losses came in the closing seconds at South Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia.

Billy Donovan was unable to take part in the typical Monday media session. So as a special treat we'll hear what Associate Head Coach Larry Shyatt thinks about LSU.

Larry Shyatt on the game with the Tigers:

"Our players and our staff are excited about going to Baton Rouge. They've got a great team and are the most veteran team in the league. Six of the (eight) players who play quality minutes – five of them are seniors and the junior (Tasmin Mitchell) is (going to be) a fifth year guy. They have great experience and great size. They are the only team that I'm aware of that's in the top four in every SEC category so that'll tell you they're really balanced as well."

Larry Shyatt on the Gators losses on the road:

"I think our team's played pretty well on the road. I think we've struggled down the home stretch of some games, but we have been a heart beat away or won on the road. We've been a pretty consistent team from day one, and I think our warts have been identified pretty early in the year. I think it's amazing the ability our players have shown to overcome some of those warts against some pretty talented teams."

Larry Shyatt on the challenge of dealing with the Tigers on the boards:

"Well we visited with our team about that yesterday, because truly they (LSU) personify what you'd want out of a veteran team. They are a terrific defensive team and they rebound the ball well. Those are usually products of maturity and age. Every coach that we have talked to that has played them say you're not going to be overly impressed with new trickery in their offense. But what you're going to be unable to get a feel for until you play them live is the ferocity with which they go to the glass. They're like pit bulls is what a couple of people in our league describe them as. Our team has been pretty straight up and frank about what we're not doing well at times (rebounding) and I think this is a great challenge, the best in the league."

Florida will likely try to press LSU and see if they can get the Tigers a little tired since they don't ask much from their bench. The problem with pressing LSU is tall teams and experienced teams tend to handle the press pretty well and LSU is both. In many ways Florida is playing with "house money" for the first time all year. By that I mean they are not expected to win this one, so there's really not a lot of pressure on them. If they just come close on the glass (minus-five or so) they'll have a chance to get a really big win.

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