For the second time in less than three weeks, LSU (10-7, 1-5) will host a ranked SEC opponent inside the PMAC on Wednesday night.
Johnny Jones' Tigers are hoping this one turns out differently.
On Jan. 12, No. 11 Florida came calling on Baton Rouge, and the Gators left town with a decisive 74-52 victory. Tonight the team down the sideline from LSU will be No. 17 Missouri (15-4, 4-2). Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and SEC Network will have the television broadcast.
Frank Haith's Tigers, playing their first season in the SEC, are expected to get a major boost Wednesday as leading scorer Laurence Bowers returns after missing the last five games with a sprained right knee.
Mizzou went 3-2 in Bowers' absence, falling at Ole Miss and Florida, both by double digits. In fact the Show-Me-State Tigers are yet to win a true road game this season, now 0-3 (the other loss was a 97-94 setback at UCLA).
LSU enters the fray playing its best basketball of the young SEC season.
The Bayou Bengals came back from 14 down to defeat Texas A&M a week ago before dropping a hard-fought contest at Kentucky over the weekend.
Here are the projected starting lineups for tonight's contest.
LSU (10-7, 1-5)
G Anthony Hickey (So., 5-11, 178) – 11.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.5 apg, 3.8 spg
G Andre Stringer (Jr., 5-10, 182) – 10.8 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.9 apg
G Charles Carmouche (Sr., 6-4, 187) – 9.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.1 apg, 2.2 spg
F Johnny O'Bryant (So., 6-9, 258) – 11.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 47.1% FGs
C Andrew Del Piero (Sr., 7-3, 254) – 4.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg
Key Rotational Players: F Shavon Coleman (Jr., 6-5, 195; averages 12.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg and 1.6 spg) and G Malik Morgan (Fr., 6-4, 188; averages 5.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg and 1.6 spg)
No. 17 Missouri (15-4, 4-2)
G Phil Pressey (Jr., 5-11, 175) – 11.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 7.2 apg
G Keion Bell (Sr., 6-4, 200) – 9.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 50.8% FGs
G Jabari Brown (So., 6-5, 205) – 15.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 39.2% 3s
F Laurence Bowers (Sr., 6-8, 227) – 16.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 58.1% FGs
F Alex Oriakhi (Sr., 6-9, 255) – 10.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 59.0% FGs
Key Rotational Players: G Earnest Ross (Jr., 6-5, 222; averages 10.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg) and F Tony Criswell (Jr., 6-9, 240; averages 6.3 ppg and 4.9 rpg)
In Missouri, LSU will face an extremely athletic team bolstered by the return of Bowers but truly powered and led by preseason All-SEC point guard Phil Pressey. The Dallas, Tex., native has been superb this season, averaging a team-high 7.2 assists per game, ranking him in a tie for sixth nationwide in that department.
Pressey, 5-11, 175, can cause problems in the open court with his speed and in half-court sets with his ability to wiggle off ball screens and make plays in the lane. LSU's head coach is well aware of the challenges Pressey presents, and he plans to begin the game with a quick player of his own, Anthony Hickey, matched up on the junior.
"We'll obviously have to start with Hickey. He'll be our first option," Jones said of potential man defenders on Pressey. "Then, we'll have to go with [Andre] Stringer, guys that we've been going to all year. That's who we have available to us, so it's not like they're going to let us draft somebody this late in the season. That's basically it, and maybe [Charles] Carmouche will have a chance to see him as well."
Stringer reiterated earlier this week that LSU has a lot to guard against with Missouri, a team the purple-and-gold Tigers know is full of options, inside and out.
"I think they want to get up and down," said Stringer frankly. "They set a lot ball screens for Pressey so he can get in the lane and make his teammates better. They'll set a lot of screens for shooters. They've got some size down low. I think they can do a variety of things. Our ability to match their intensity is what will be important."
Missouri, for all its considerable talent, is a team still coming together. After all, a quick look at the visiting Tigers' roster reveals no less than five players who have transferred in from Division-I schools.
Starting backcourt players Keion Bell and Jabari Brown originally began their collegiate careers at Pepperdine and Oregon, respectively, while starting center Alex Oriakhi formerly played for Jim Calhoun at Connecticut. Key reserve Earnest Ross, no stranger to LSU fans, used to play at Auburn and backup Jordan Clarkson (Tulsa) is also a transplant to Haith's program.
How all those new pieces continue to gel on the road, especially with Bowers fresh off a five-game hiatus, will tell a lot of the story tonight.
So too will the start of the game, an area where LSU has been poor this season and downright rotten since SEC play tipped six games ago.
The home-standing Tigers will at least have the advantage of trotting out the same starting lineup for the second straight game, with Charles Carmouche back from a flare-up to an old knee injury which kept him from the Georgia game entirely and kept him from the starting lineup against the Aggies last Wednesday.
The only expected injuries for LSU are Corban Collins and Eddie Ludwig, both of whom have sat for the past few games. Collins was back at practice earlier this week, but only in a viewing capacity as he comes back from a nasty head injury that resulted in numerous stitches and a concussion.
TSD will have full coverage from the PMAC before, during and after the opening tip. Come back tonight around 6:30 p.m. for live updates.
To press or not to press
It's become the ongoing question about this LSU team amongst those who watch them closely.
Should the Tigers continue to use their effective press often despite an obvious lack of numbers?
In my weekly "On the Bounce" column Sunday, I argued that yes, they should. At a certain point, even if the body count is low, you have to go with what's working. And full-court pressure is doing the trick for LSU just about every time out the box, only it usually doesn't leave the box until the Tigers are already down – most of the time big – in a ballgame.
Two more reasons it couldn't hurt if you're Johnny Jones: First, it's what you want to do with the program long-term anyway from a schematic standpoint. Second, every single one of his players polled so far love it.
Here's what Andre Stringer had to say about LSU's press recently, going into some detail about how certain teams handle it in different ways.
"We do pretty much the same thing. Some teams just deal with it differently," explained Stringer. "Obviously they're scouting us and they know what we like to do with our press. They know Hickey's going to sit back, Shavon [Coleman] is pretty long and is going to tip some balls up front. I'm going to try to tip some, [Charles] Carmouche is going to try to tip a couple of balls. Kentucky did a great job of slowing down and trying to pass over. I think that's why they broke it a little bit better."
His final point made is a very valid one. When teams like Texas A&M, who feature shorter guards like LSU's, encounter the press, they struggle because they have to go around it and have a more difficult time throwing over it. The same can't be said of a team like Kentucky and a number others in the SEC.
Spinning the topic forward in relation to tonight's game, Missouri starts a short point guard in Pressey (5-11), but the other two backcourt starters are listed at 6-4 and 6-5, something that could point to trouble should LSU apply its press liberally and frequently.
Plus, as Jones pointed out, Pressey isn't a guy that needs any encouragement to get off to the races.
"You don't want to speed him up. The faster he goes, the better he gets," Jones explained. "Phil is a very good, crafty guard. I think he can play both ways, he can play fast or slow. I think he has a real gift in terms of being able to create opportunities for others. That's why his assist numbers are up. He understands how to play. He's one of those really good point guards that can see plays ahead of time."
But Stringer, always confident in his team's abilities, thinks LSU can have success should it decide to speed up Missouri inside the PMAC.
"I think so," he responded when asked if LSU could press Missouri. "I think our press is good enough. We have enough quick guards who can get in there and pressure the ball pretty well even though they have some guards who can handle. The pressure that we apply is what creates turnovers. I don't think it's about the players."
PREVIEW: LSU vs. No. 17 Missouri
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