Coming off two dismal seasons, that has generated reason for hope.
But there hasn't been one game that quite registers as that one the Tigers can look at as a foothold the rest of the season – something they can build from and know they're headed in the right direction. One that can generate fan excitement from a fan base that sometimes needs prodding to show up for basketball.
With a third of the regular season finished and the SEC schedule hovering in the immediate future, LSU (7-3) gets the first of two major non-conference tests at home before league play when 10th-ranked Marquette (10-0) visits the Pete Maravich Assembly Center Monday for an 8 p.m. showdown.
The Golden Eagles are the highest ranked non-conference team to visit Baton Rouge since No. 6-ranked Texas A&M in December 2006. They also give the Tigers another chance to beat a ranked foe under fourth-year coach Trent Johnson, who is 0-for-6 in such games.
And for an LSU team still forming an identity, Marquette is the toughest test so far in a season when the Tigers have faced some tricky hurdles, especially on the road.
"It's going to be a big challenge for us, but at the same time it's an opportunity," sophomore guard Ralston Turner said. "Marquette is a great basketball team coming in here and it's a big opportunity for us to get a good win and keep getting better."
It's also a contrast in styles against a team with equal or better talent.
LSU has split two similar games this season: Falling to Northwestern 88-82 and beating Georgia Tech 59-50.
|Marquette coach Buzz Williams|
Neither of those teams is as deep or talented as the Eagles, though. And neither is as effective at the up-tempo style Marquette has mastered in the fourth season under Buzz Williams.
The Eagles lead the Big East Conference with 84 points a game and 19.5 assists per game and rank second in turnovers, forcing 18 a contest, and field-goal offense (49%).
"Marquette is a very complete basketball team," Johnson said. "What impresses you the most about them is that they're very, very aggressive. They're always in attack mode. … We need to be prepared to handle pressure. We need to be prepared to limit their transition opportunities."
"When they make their runs, whether its defense or offense, we need to stay poised and not get away from the game plan. It needs to be a half-court game for us to be successful."
That plays into the Tigers' MO, especially if they can win the defensive battle.
LSU has limited the last four opponents and six of the last seven under 60 points. The last three foes have shot 33% or worse from the field.
|Eagles freshman Todd Mayo logged a career-high 22 points in an unexpected start last Saturday|
That stingy defense, combined with the Tigers' size advantage over the smaller but quicker Eagles has Williams' attention.
"The collection of bigs will be the best that we've played against," Williams said. "Two undersized guards that can really score. Unbelievable on the glass. Simple in how they approach the game Superb in the execution of their simplicity. We will have our hands full."
That might especially be true on the backboards.
Although the numbers between the two teams are similar – the Tigers average 39.3 rebounds a game, the Eagles 37.9 – LSU's inside tandem of Justin Hamilton and Johnny O'Bryant, with Storm Warren off the bench, is a decided advantage.
One the Tigers have to seize upon.
"It would be really big," Hamilton said. "We all have been working really hard in practice and if we continue to work hard we'll come in well prepared."
Making shots also ties into whatever chance the Tigers have of being successful.
To put it mildly, LSU has been an awful shooting team this season, hitting 39.2% overall and 33.1% from 3-point range. The Tigers are coming off a season-worst 31.3% performance (21 of 67) in a win against UC Irvine.
Johnson insists that he isn't bothered by shot selection, saying most of the shots his players are launching are in rhythm and part of the offense. He can't be thrilled with the results, though, especially from beyond mid-range.
|Turner: Looks to break out of shooting slump|
Turner is mired in a 7-of-34 slump the last three games and has missed 11 of his last 13 tries from 3-point territory. Freshman guard Anthony Hickey has missed his last 17 3-pointers over the last five games.
The LSU coach said he's tried different approaches to shake his team out of its slump. Shooting more, shooting less, not talking about it, breaking it down on film and before practice.
The bottom line is pretty simple against Marquette, though.
"We need to make good decisions and take good shots," Johnson said. "With this basketball team at this time in the year, this is a good measuring stick to find out where we are and how far we have grown."
No better test than the biggest one of the season.