Seeing LSU come up in an analysis of bad losses in 2010 is like being a kid on Christmas morning. There's just so many presents to choose from. They have last place in the SEC on lockdown with a 0-10 league record. Gone are the days of Tyrus Thomas, Glen Davis, and even Anthony Randolph. Louisiana State is in full crisis mode and have lost 13 of their past 14 games as they head to Memorial with high hopes of knocking off the Commodores.
Penn State is the only BCS conference team ranked lower than LSU in the RPI (in the KenPom rankings, Penn State sits approximately 100 slots higher than the Tigers). The team is currently ranked behind basketball powerhouses like Seattle (first season at the D-I level), Southeastern Louisiana, The Citadel, Lipscomb, and no less than three different Loyolas. After losing star Marcus Thornton and glue guys Garrett Temple and Chris Johnson to graduation, the Tigers have been unable to bounce back due to a couple of mediocre recruiting classes (by LSU standards, at least).
Let's sort through the carnage and hope that this isn't some elaborate jinx for the Commdores.
Louisiana State (9-15, AP NR, Coaches NR)
Worst Loss: vs. Utah (RPI #164, KenPom #113) 59-61
Other (bad) Losses: at Arkansas, vs. Washington State, vs. Auburn
Louisiana State's (RPI #218, KenPom #208) cupcake out-of-conference schedule is responsible for the team's nine wins, including games against McNeese State, Nicholls State, and Northwestern State. The team's best win was over a 89th ranked Indiana State team that is currently seventh in the Missouri Valley Conference. They have four losses against teams ranked outside the RPI 100, though a loss to Alabama where the Tigers scored only 38 points was in consideration for analysis.
LSU has just two upperclassman contributors, and they are the team's leading scorers. Tasmin Mitchell is driving the team as a senior, averaging a near double-double (17.2 pts, 9.8 rpg) despite being just 6'7". Unfortunately, Mitchell's increased scoring is coming with a drop in his on-court efficiency, as his shooting percentage has dropped 7% from last year. His increase in rebounds could be related to his team's lack of shooting prowess - the Tigers are hitting just 40.5% of their shots from the floor.
Part of these shooting woes can be attributed to junior guard Bo Spencer, the team's other upperclassman. Spencer is the team's second leading scorer, but shoots 33.8% from the field - 27.8% from three point range. He's a classic volume shooter, averaging 14.26 shots per game and scoring just 15 points each night.
Key to Destruction: LSU shot poorly and showed an absolute lack of balance against a mediocre Utes team. The team shot 36% from the field and had just two players score more than five points on the night. Despite having 10 more possessions than Utah, the Tigers couldn't hold on to a 12 point second half lead. In a game the team should have won, LSU was simply broken by a lackluster Utah squad.
Utah took a two point lead with 1:10 remaining, and LSU couldn't score from there. A Storm Warren turnover, followed by a missed three pointer and missed lay-up sealed the game despite Utah's inability to extend their lead. The Tigers' insufficient depth was on full display this night. Mitchell and Warren led the home team with 40 of the team's 59 points and 21 of the team's 33 rebounds. Bo Spencer was quiet on the night, scoring only four points on six shots.
Keys to the Game:
Limit Tasmin Mitchell - Force LSU's offense to run through Bo Spencer - the only way this team can win at Memorial is if Mitchell and Spencer both have unbelievable nights. Mitchell is more effective and efficient, so the 'Dores would be wise to take their chances by doubling him and allowing more chances for the junior shooter who averages just over a point per shot.
Pressure LSU's rotation guys - LSU's bench is young and unproven. In the team's losses, they've often disappeared from the game. When the Tigers' starters head to the bench, Vanderbilt needs to use these opportunities to put the game out of reach.
Stay calm, play relaxed - Vanderbilt can't afford to lose this game. LSU has shown that they can get streaky and go on runs, but fortunately this is a Commodore squad that has shown that it can weather 10-2 scoring storms throughout the season. Don't let a Tiger scoring burst knock this team off its rhythm - don't play down to their level. Vanderbilt can make a nice statement here by winning big, but not by winning sloppy.