Tennessee heads back on the road Saturday, travelling to Baton Rouge to take on LSU.
LSU, in head coach Will Wade’s fourth season, finds itself on the right side of the bubble with a 12-6 (7-4 SEC) record. Entering Saturday’s matchup, Tennessee and LSU are tied for second in the SEC, 3.5 games back of Alabama.
The Tigers play an up-tempo style of basketball, running a full court to help bolster its high powered offense. LSU has the SEC’s highest rated offense and scores 82.2 points per game, good for second in the conference.
“They got the eighth-ranked offense in the county and have guys that can score because they are a very heavy isolation team,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “They're going to see who they can take advantage of and they are going to use that 2-2-1 press they always use so that’s going to be a challenge. They’re a very explosive offensive team.”
LSU’s offense is paced by a pair of star guards, Javonte Smart and Cameron Thomas. Thomas, a freshman from Virginia, averages an SEC best 22.4 points per game. Thomas is a high volume scorer, recording just 1.4 assists to 2.1 turnovers per game.
Smart has been fantastic in his two appearances against the Vols, combining for 50 points in the two contests. The Louisiana native is averaging 15.8 points and a team high 4.2 assists per game. Smart is also the Tigers’ best three-point threat, making 44.6% of his attempts from deep.
The matchup in the backcourt will be one to watch with Tennessee’s freshmen guards Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer starting to play their best basketball of the season. Playing a more up tempo style, which will play into LSU’s game, Johnson and Springer have combined for 91 points in the last two games.
“I would say I’m just getting more comfortable,” Springer said. “I also feel like the team as a whole is getting more comfortable. We’re playing with a faster pace and getting up and down the court and it’s paying off for us.”
As good as LSU’s offense has been this season, its defense has had major issues that have led to the Tigers not reaching their preseason expectations.
The Tigers defense ranks as the second worst in the SEC in net rating and 146th in KenPom. The Tigers give up 74.6 points per game and should give Tennessee a chance to continue its streak of scoring 80 plus points.
In the frontcourt, LSU is led by sophomore forward Trendon Watford. The former five-star recruit does a little bit of everything for the Tigers, averaging 16.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. The Birmingham native can also stretch the court as he’s made 12 triples on the season.
Darius Days rounds out a four headed offensive attack from LSU. The 6-foot-7 junior is averaging 12.4 points and a team high 8.1 rebounds per game. Look for Tennessee’s Josiah Jordan James to get some run guarding Days due to his versatility and rebounding skills.
Behind the top four, LSU’s next leading scorer tallies just 4.4 points per game
Tip off from the Bayou is set for 2 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN.