Normally, I'd write this sort of a preview for the game thread, but given the complete and utter lack of other things to talk about -- and the important nature of tomorrow's game -- I thought I'd throw you all a bone and give us something to talk about so that CougarsRock can quit going through withdrawals.
We all believe this to be a big game for the Cougs for some obvious reasons, chief among them that it represents our final chance to get a nice win to bolster our potential Tournament resume before the conference schedule starts. But how nice of a win it actually would be is highly debatable at the moment.
Of course, a win on the road against a power-conference opponent is always worth some NCAA Tournament committee brownie points, but the truth is that we really have no idea how good LSU really is. The Tigers haven't just played a soft nonconference schedule to build their 9-1 record; they've played the weakest nonconference schedule in the country -- No. 344 out of 344 Division I basketball teams, according to Ken Pomeroy, as the Tigers have played just two teams rated above 220 by Pomeroy (No. 133 Cal-State Fullerton and No. 83 Texas A&M).
Seriously, even Jim Boeheim shakes his head at how bad the Tigers' first 10 opponents have been.
Because the opposition has been so weak, it's tough to get much of a statistical read on LSU. However, the Tigers are ranked No. 69 by Pomeroy despite their record, and their adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency numbers are not nearly as good as their raw numbers, indicating that LSU probably isn't as strong as the record might suggest.
So what, if anything, can we learn from the Tigers' early results? Well, much like the Cougars, its pretty obvious that they've just physically overwhelmed their opponents. Teams have been unable to get into the lane against the Tigers, thanks in large part to 6-foot-11 shot blocker extraordinaire Chris Johnson, who is 18th nationally in block percentage. In fact, LSU is fifth nationally as a team in both block percentage and 2-point field goal percentage allowed. They've done a good job beating who they should beat.
Our two best shots to try and evaluate the Tigers come from their two most quality opponents. But we won't learn much from the Fullerton matchup because the Tigers like to run and the Titans really, really like to run, resulting in a 75-possession game that was absolutely nothing like what we'll see tomorrow. So let's focus in on Texas A&M.
First of all, the Aggies slowed the game down -- not necessarily to the degree the Cougs will, but slower than what LSU would prefer. They also destroyed the Tigers inside, getting Johnson and versatile forward Tasmin Mitchell into foul trouble. Because the Tigers are not at all a deep team, any kind of foul trouble really starts to spell doom for them. Additionally, it makes a lot of sense to attack LSU this way if you can, because the Tigers' three guards, who see the bulk of the minutes on the floor, are long and rangy on the perimeter.
In fact, this makes me start to wonder if starting Caleb Forrest against Idaho wasn't meant to prepare for this game. There could be some real weakensses in LSU's interior for WSU's big men to exploit, in particular Aron Baynes. Yes, Johnson is a good shot blocker, but he's only 205 pounds. And the last time Baynes played a talented shot blocker who couldn't matchup with his girth, he threw Jarvis Varnado on the barbie and ate him to the tune of 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
The Texas A&M game is also the closest the Tigers have come to facing a team with even remotely the defensive prowess of WSU, but that's not saying much -- the Aggies' adjusted defesive efficiency ranks No. 127, while the Cougs' ranks No. 2. So while we should be a little bit concerned about the ability of guards Marcus Thornton (17.3 ppg) and Bo Spencer (11.2 ppg) to go crazy from the outside -- the Tigers shoot 39.2 percent from 3-point range, 33rd nationally -- it's safe to say that the Tigers simply won't get the open looks on the perimeter they've become accustomed to. Mitchell, a talented frontcourt player coming off a major knee injury last year, also won't have the physical advantage around the basket he's enjoyed in the first 10 games.
Of course, Trent Johnson knows all of this about the WSU defense, having coached against Bennett teams for the past four years at Stanford. But how many times have we seen a team think they know what they're in for against the Cougs, only to say after the game that while they knew the defense was good, they didn't know it was that good? It's one thing for Johnson to know it; it's something else for him to get his team to believe it. Here's to betting his team won't truly believe it until Johnson asks them, "Now do you believe me?" at halftime.
The bottom line is that we just don't know what we're getting ourselves into tomorrow, and likely won't know just what a win -- or a loss -- means until later in the year.