First-year head coach Johnny Jones’ young LSU basketball team jumped out of the blocks this season to a surprising 9-2 start, but now the squad finds itself in a quick 0-2 hole in conference play. After dropping a tight one to Auburn, the Tigers then learned just how far they have to go to reach elite status, as the cream of this year’s SEC crop – the Florida Gators – smashed them at home, 74-52.
After a relatively close first half on Saturday, the Gators torched LSU with a barrage of outside shooting, along with a relentless assault on the offensive glass. LSU’s 7-foot-3 center, Andrew Del Piero, is still developing as a former walk-on. He has talent, but Del Piero was clearly outmatched down low against the strong Gators front line, and power forward Johnny O’Bryant III continues to be slowed by injuries.
Still, and despite the lopsided loss, LSU can walk away with some positives. For starters, Florida is the best basketball team LSU will face all year. Billy Donovan’s squad has emerged as the solid front-runner to run away with the SEC crown, and looks to be as complete as any team in the country. LSU competed hard in the first half, and matched up well, from an athletic standpoint, on the perimeter. The Tigers couldn’t get the shots to fall in the second half to even make a run, but a potential rematch with Florida in the SEC Tournament could be interesting.
Now, the South Carolina Gamecocks come calling upon Baton Rouge tonight with a 9-5 overall record, and this battle for membership in the SEC win column will pit strengths directly against weaknesses.
LSU plays fiesty, aggressive defense on the perimeter, and enters the contest ranked sixth in the nation in steals percentage, while the mistake-prone Gamecocks average 18 turnovers per game. On the other hand, South Carolina ranks second in the league in offensive rebounding percentage, and the Tigers have given up 31 offensive boards in the last two games.
The Gamecocks will bring a tough, never-say-die mentality into Wednesday night’s important game. But LSU, despite the loss to Florida, has shown a respectable amount of toughness in this young season. The Tigers’ backcourt also displayed impressive athleticism in holding their own against the Gators’ guards, and forced their fair share of steals. Look for LSU to do the same on Wednesday night, eventually overwhelming the visitors with unrelenting defensive pressure en route to coach Johnny Jones’ first SEC victory.