Of the Tigers' four remaining SEC games in the regular season, this one might be the most winnable. But, make no mistake, there's nothing easy about getting the best of this Arkansas team.
The Razorbacks, 17-10 overall and 8-6 in league play, come into Baton Rouge having won three of four and five of seven, a stretch which includes victories over Tennessee, Florida and Missouri (albeit in Fayetteville for all three).
LSU (16-9, 7-7) is riding a wave of momentum itself, winners of seven of its last 10 after beginning conference play 0-4.
The winner of tonight's game (7 p.m., SEC Network) in the PMAC will almost certainly be a lock for NIT play and could even still dream about the Big Dance if the cards fall right with a strong stretch run.
Here are the projected starting lineups for Wednesday's contest.
LSU (16-9, 7-7)
G Anthony Hickey (So., 5-11, 178) – 11.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.0 apg, 3.3 spg
G Andre Stringer (Jr., 5-10, 182) – 10.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 2.1 apg
G Malik Morgan (Fr., 6-4, 188) – 5.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.4 apg
F Johnny O'Bryant (So., 6-9, 258) – 14.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 50.0% FGs
C Andrew Del Piero (Sr., 7-3, 254) – 4.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.1 bpg
Key Rotational Players: G Charles Carmouche (Sr., 6-4, 187; averages 9.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 3.5 apg) and F Shavon Coleman (Jr., 6-5, 195; averages 10.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg and 1.3 spg)
Arkansas (17-10, 8-6)
G Mardracus Wade (Jr., 6-2, 176) – 6.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.6 spg
G Rickey Scott (Jr., 6-3, 205) – 4.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.7 apg
G B.J. Young (So., 6-3, 180) – 15.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.8 apg
F Coty Clarke (Jr., 6-7, 225) – 7.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 50.4% FGs
F Marshawn Powell (Jr., 6-7, 240) – 14.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.2 bpg
Key Rotational Players: F Hunter Mickelson (So., 6-10, 245; averages 6.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg and 1.3 bpg) and G Rashad Madden (So., 6-5, 181; averages 4.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg and 1.9 apg)
The Hogs are one of the rare SEC teams that like to get up and down the court and will gladly and willingly play an up-tempo game should LSU push things that way. That will come in stark contrast to the Tigers' previous game against Alabama (and, truthfully, everyone LSU has played in the league aside from Florida and Missouri).
And one look at the numbers shows Arkansas' offensive prowess.
Mike Anderson's Razorbacks rank 32nd nationwide (fourth in the SEC) in scoring at 74.7 points per game and are 25th in Division-I basketball (second in the SEC) in assists at 15.5 per game.
They also have a carbon copy of the type of player who's been killing LSU's guards lately in BJ Young. The 6-3, 180-pound sweet-shooting sophomore from St. Louis is the team's leading scorer (15.7 ppg), assist man (3.8 apg) and manages to shoot at a good clip from the field (45.2%) despite pacing the team in field goals attempted.
Look for Charles Carmouche to see plenty of time on Young after LSU Coach Johnny Jones regretted after the Alabama game waiting so long to stick Carmouche on Trevor Releford, who finished with a game-high 36 points.
The other matchup to watch will take place in the post when the Tigers' leading scorer and rebounder Johnny O'Bryant squares off against Arkansas junior Marshawn Powell. O'Bryant is a few inches taller and weighs at least 15 pounds more than Powell, so look for Anderson to sprinkle in a healthy dosage of Hunter Mickelson (6-10, 245) on O'Bryant when he can.
Finally, perhaps the thing pointing most in LSU's favor tonight is Arkansas' track record on the road. To date the Razorbacks are 1-6 away from home in SEC play, winning only at lowly Auburn, compared to a 7-0 mark in Bud Walton Arena.
Hickey wants different end to 2012-13 season
Here are a string of quotes from my one-on-one yesterday with LSU's point guard.
On if it's more taxing playing 18 SEC games instead of 16 …
"Yeah, it is longer, but it's about getting your rest. We just played in a three-overtime game, so you never know what's going to happen. The games always seem to be close. The league's really balanced up, so you can't take anybody lightly and you have to bring it every game. So you have to get your treatment and you have to get the right things in your body and take care of business while you're off the court."
On if practice is less taxing this year to preserve guys' legs …
"Practice is very different. It's about locking in and just listening more because you've got to save yourself, but you've still got to work hard. I'm starting to come in even more to get extra shots because it's getting toward that time when you're going to be fatigued, but you've still got to make that shot. So I'm pushing myself and pushing myself harder outside of practice."
On whether or not the players talk about postseason possibilities …
"We're toward the late part of the middle of the season, so it's about the kind of run you can make. It's based on what you do now because you need that good seeding for the conference tournament. It's important how you finish, and we talk about that all the time."
On whether or not he stays in touch with former coach Trent Johnson …
"Coach Johnson, he sends little nuggets at me. He tells me to keep doing my thing. He always wanted to be my coach, but there were other things that came up on him. He tells me to just keep playing basketball, have fun and relax. He did call when I was in trouble. He was like, ‘Man, you've got to take care of your business.' So, he still stays in touch and drops little nuggets of knowledge on me when I need it.
On a promise Johnson made that he'd sit with Hickey's dad at the first game of the NCAA Tournament whenever the player gets there …
"That would be great to see my old coach. I haven't seen him since he left. But, yeah, him and my dad have a great relationship, so that would be good for all of us to see him again. It drives me because I told him from day one that I wanted to be great and that I would help this team get to the tournament. It's been since like, what, 2008 since LSU's been there. So it was a goal I told him I had a while back – that I'd get to the tournament while I was at LSU and much more."
PREVIEW: LSU vs. Arkansas
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