Setting: The Pete Maravich Assembly Center is the scene for this pivotal non-conference matchup as Sean Miller’s No. 15 Xavier Musketeers (16-2/5-0) travel south to take on Trent Johnson’s Louisiana State University Tigers (15-3/3-1).
Plots: LSU rides a 17-game home-winning streak into the contest. The Tigers are coming off an 81-57 triumph over Mississippi State—their third overall in a row. Xavier bring a seven-game streak into the tilt.
Sub-plots: The game pits teams from conferences battling for representation in the NCAA. It might be hard to imagine that just three years ago the Tigers were one of two SEC teams in the Final Four.
The other was the eventual two-time champion, Florida. The Gators are the lone representative at No. 24 in this week’s AP Poll. The SEC might struggle to get many tickets to ‘The Dance.’ Beating a ranked team is vital for the Tigers.
Xavier will be LSU’s first Top 25 opponent of the season. The Musketeers represent the A10, a conference looking to build its tournament resume. Xavier is one of only nine schools to make multiple Elite Eight appearances in the last five years.
Trent Johnson has proven there is rebounding life after the Lopez twins. After five years at the helm for the Stanford Cardinal, Johnson’s Tigers rank seventh in the country with a rebound margin of 8.6.
Xavier has held 13 of their first 18 opponents under 40 percent from the field. The game is the Muskies' second against the SEC—beating Auburn earlier this year—81-74. Xavier’s strength-of-schedule is ranked in the Top 20 with wins over Virginia Tech, Virginia, Memphis, Missouri, and Cincinnati.
Flashback: The game is the third meeting all-time between the schools. With the Tigers winning the last meeting in 1980: 78-62.
Characters to watch: Marcus Thornton leads three Tigers in double figures with 18 ppg. The senior has hit 36 trifectas on the campaign. Sophomore, Bo Spencer has chipped in 32 from behind the arc and averages 12 ppg.
Tasmin Mitchell throws in 15 ppg and grabs 6 boards per game. Chris Johnson leads the Tigers with 7.7 rpg. Thornton, Mitchell, and Johnson all grab two offensive rebounds per game.
Miller has developed a nine-player rotation that gives Xavier’s opponents fits. Three players average double figure points: B.J. Raymond, Derrick Brown, and C.J. Anderson, but Dante Jackson, Jason Love, Brad Redford, Terrell Holloway, Kenny Frease, and Jamel McLean have all taken turns scoring double-digit points in a contest.
Conflict: LSU’s play on the arc is more about potential than it is consistency. Nonetheless, the Tigers are capable of scoring in bunches from long distance. Just ask Washington St.
The Cougars were and are ranked number one in the country in scoring defense holding teams to 52 a game. The Tigers shot 45 percent (9/20) from the arc and pasted a 64 on the board against Tony Bennett’s gang.
Xavier will need to use their depth and athleticism to neutralize LSU on the arc and keep the Tigers at bay on the boards.
Resolution: C.J. Anderson has established himself as an inside scoring threat. This will continue against the Tigers. Watch for Redford coming off the bench. He has no conscience when it comes to long range shots.
First Team All-Casey
G Jeff Teague Wake Forest
G Stephen Curry Davidson
G/F Dionte Christmas Temple
F Blake Griffin Oklahoma
F Tyler Hansbrough UNC
G LeVance Fields Pittsburgh
G Kyle McAlarney Notre Dame
G/F Jodie Meeks Kentucky
F Luke Harangody Notre Dame
F DeJuan Blair Pittsburgh