Setting: SEC meets Atlantic 10 at the Cintas Center on the campus of Xavier University when Trent Johnson’s LSU Tigers (8-3) lock horns with Chris Mack’s Xavier Musketeers (7-4).
Plot: Both teams will look to shrug off any possible holiday hangover. Xavier last played on December 23rd (a 70-67 victory over Miami of Ohio). LSU lost in overtime to Washington St., 72-70 on December 22nd.
Sub-plots: After a season where both of these teams won their respective conferences, LSU and Xavier each need to prove themselves. LSU is looking up at a revived Kentucky program while Mississippi State and Ole Miss have also improved. Xavier will need to knock off Temple and Dayton to win their fourth consecutive A-10 title.
Flashback: Derrick Brown dropped 22, BJ Raymond 21, and Kenny Frease scored 12 off the bench as the Musketeers won at Pete Maravich Assembly Center last season, 70-60. Xavier leads the all time series 2-1.
Foreshadowing: LSU and Xavier are well represented in the NBA. The Musketeers have sent 16 players to the pros including current players Derrick Brown, James Posey, and David West. The Tigers have graduated 31 to the pros. Shaquille O’Neal, Brandon Bass, Glen Davis, Anthony Randolph, Tyrus Thomas, and Marcus Thornton currently earn paychecks in the NBA.
Conflict: Xavier is 7-0 this season when scoring 70 or more points. LSU has allowed opponents to score 70 or more just three times. All those resulted in losses—Arizona State, UConn, and Washington State.
At 6′9″, Xavier’s Jason Love will be the tallest starter on the floor. The senior averages 9.9 boards including a pair of 19 rebound performances against Marquette and Cincinnati. LSU counters in the front court with Tasmin Mitchell (6′7″) and Storm Warren (6′7″). Mitchell and Warren combine for 20 rebounds per game. Love averages 10 points. Mitchell and Warren score 31 points.
While Xavier goes with their four-guard lineup, Dante Jackson will draw one of the inside assignments. Mitchell and Warren will need to keep Love in check. Love has established a jump hook this season, and with his size advantage, he should be able to use it as long as he stays out of foul trouble. Jackson will force one of LSU’s post players outside. Jackson has dropped 43 percent from behind the arc.
Chris Mack won’t hesitate to go to his bench where he can turn to Kenny Frease (7′0″) and Jamel McLean (6′8″). Johnson has a pair of 6′10″ towers to use—Dennis Harris and Garrett Green.
Harris and Green combine for six points and five rebounds per game.
Frease averages six points and 4.5 boards per game.
Chris Bass leads the SEC in assist to turnover ratio. The sophomore has 42 assists and just 13 turnovers this season.
Terrell Holloway leads the A-10 with a three to one assist to turnover ratio.
Bo Spencer averages 16.6 points for the Tigers. Mark Lyons has earned a starting spot for the Musketeers.
The difference in the game will come down to bench play. Besides Frease and McLean, Mack can go to Jordan Crawford, Brad Redford, and Andrew Taylor off the bench.
Crawford will create matchup problems for the Tigers. The sophomore guard has scored 20 points five or more times and leads the Muskies with 18.5 points. Consistency is the challenge for Crawford who tends to force too many plays.
Redford leads the A-10 in three-point percentage. The sophomore has connected on 22 of 43 attempts including 4-of-5 against Kansas State.
Both teams connect 67 percent of the time from the free throw line. The Muskies have made 37 more trips to the stripe. LSU is 51-of-171 from the three-point arc while Xavier is 82-of-190 from long range. Xavier has taken 19 fewer triple attempts than their opponents while making nine more than their adversaries from long range.
Resolution: Xavier’s bench will prove their strength. After a pair of sluggish games while recovering from the death of his father, McLean grabbed nine rebounds against Miami of Ohio. The junior has risen to the occasion in the past, and tonight will be no different.