Vanderbilt's 84-72 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday was the most damaging defeat of the season. It was an entirely unexpected loss at home to a team that had the worst record of any in the conference. Also, it came after a decisive, but not totally unexpected, whipping on the road to tough Mississippi State, from which the team seemed likely to rebound. Poor defense, rebounding, and ballhandling once again plagued the Commodores. Brian Thornton led the team in scoring with 22 points, followed by a cold-shooting Matt Freije (13) and Jason Holwerda (10).
The Louisiana State University Tigers come into the Vanderbilt game 13-8 overall, but in conference play they are only 2-7. Their non-conference schedule was a weak one, but produced a surprising 66-65 win over highly ranked Arizona in Baton Rouge and a win at Tulane (74-62), with only one loss (79-77 at Texas A&M). The two conference victories were both at home (85-72 over Mississippi State and 71-58 over South Carolina), over the same two teams to which Vanderbilt just lost. Two of the losses were at home (67-57 to Mississippi and 70-53 to Florida), with defeats on the road to Georgia (89-63), Arkansas (73-65), Mississippi State (67-64), Alabama (75-66), and Auburn (56-54).
LSU's star is 6-7 senior Ronald Dupree, who gets nearly all of his points close to the basket. He averages 15.9 ppg, and is second on the team in rebounding (7.8 per game), and also second in assists. He gets a lot of free throws but makes only 64% of them. He is one of the top ten players in the conference.
6-9 junior Jaime Lloreda is the second-leading scorer (12.2 ppg) and leads in rebounding (8.6 per game). He is a 240-pounder who almost never shoots from the outside and hits only 55% of his free throws. A native of Panama and transfer from Dixie State JC, Lloreda recently got into trouble for hitting Brett Nelson of Florida with a cheap shot and was given a one-game suspension.
Torris Bright, a 6-4 senior, has been the point guard since his freshman year. This year he has greatly improved his assist/turnover ratio, to about 2:1 (about five assists per game). He is scoring 10.1 ppg and hitting 36% of his three-point attempts. Bright is not noted for either speed or quickness.
The wing players who see the most action are 6-7 senior Collis Temple and 6-5 sophomore Antonio Hudson. Temple takes more three-pointers than anyone else and makes about 36% of them, while scoring 9.6 ppg. Hudson was one of the top freshmen in the conference last year but hasn't made the expected progress. Recently he was replaced in the starting lineup (probably temporarily) by 6-2 sophomore Xavier Whipple, and is scoring 8.1 ppg and shooting about 30% from three-point territory. Whipple saw little action until the last two games and is averaging less than 2.0 ppg.
5-11 freshman Darrin Mitchell of St. Martinville, La. could be a future star. He is scoring 7.6 ppg and connects on 41% of his three-pointers. Next year he could replace Bright at the point. He has been the sixth man, seeing action in all 21 games to date.
6-8 senior Brad Bridgewater is the principal substitute at the post positions. He is no star but does average 3.4 ppg. Possibly the only other players who will see action are 6-1 junior Charlie Thompson, a former walk-on, and 6-8 senior Thomas Davis.
Earlier in the season 6-1 sophomore transfer Tony Gipson was playing significant minutes, but then was suspended for the remainder of the season for poor academic performance. 6-9 junior Shawnson Johnson was booted off the team after three games.
Looking at the statistical categories, LSU is best in assist/turnover margin (second in the conference) and defense or points allowed (third). The Tigers are worst in free throw shooting (11th) and three point field goal shooting percentage (eighth), but still connect only nearly six three-pointers per game. They are seventh in rebounding margin, third in defense (points allowed), and sixth in scoring (points made).
Of the remaining conference road games, the one with LSU seems to provide the Commodores with one of their best chances for a victory. However to win they must show a degree of intensity that was missing in the last two games. A close victory for LSU by five to ten points seems probable.