Tyrus Thomas, who hit 9 of 9 field-goal tries and sparked last season's 88-74 LSU victory with 17 points, 9 rebounds and 9 blocked shots, is now in the National Basketball Association. Darrel Mitchell, LSU's senior point guard in 2005-06, has moved on, as well.
Minus Thomas and Mitchell, the Tigers' lineup tonight will consist of 6-9, 295-pound Glen Davis (18.5 points, 10.3 rebounds per game), 6-8, 230-pound Tasmin Mitchell (13.6, 6.3), 6-11, 190-pound Chris Johnson (3.5, 1.4), 6-3, 203-pound Terry Martin (10.7, 2.4) and 6-5, 176-pound Garrett Temple (9.3, 3.1).
Tennessee will counter with 6-9, 240-pound freshman Wayne Chism (8.9, 5.4) at the post position, 6-4, 205-pound senior Dane Bradshaw (6.6, 4.1) at power forward, 6-2, 196-pound junior JaJuan Smith (15.7, 4.2) at small forward and 6-2, 185-pound freshman Ramar Smith (10.1, 3.4) at the point.
Josh Tabb, a 6-4 freshman, started the past three games at shooting guard. Odds are, he will be replaced tonight by 6-2 junior Chris Lofton, who missed the previous four games with a sprained ankle. Introducing Lofton with the starting lineup would be a sure way to ignite the crowd ... and probably the Vols, as well.
Whether Lofton starts or not, head coach Bruce Pearl said he hopes the preseason All-American can play "20 to 25 minutes."
Lofton scored a career-low 2 points in last year's game but it wasn't offense that cost Tennessee; it was defense. No opponent in Pearl's first two seasons as Tennessee's head man has shredded the Vol defense the way LSU did a year ago.
The Tigers made 31 of 48 field-goal tries (64.6 percent), including a mind-boggling 19 of 25 (76.0 percent) in the second half. The Vols shot just 40 percent but stayed in the game until the final five minutes by forcing 25 LSU turnovers.
Tennessee, a loser six times in its past eight games, brings a 15-8 overall record and a 3-5 SEC mark into tonight's action. Asked if this amounts to a "play-in game" for the NCAA Tournament, Pearl replied, "I think they all are."
This game may be even bigger for LSU, however. The Tigers, losers of five games in a row, are 13-9 overall and 2-6 in SEC play. Their hopes of earning a bid to The Dance are fading fast.
LSU's coach realizes as much. Pearl said that John Brady, when asked what his team must do to get through its slump, replied, "Just win, baby."