Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: LSU

Lineup notes

LSU:

  • Mwani Wilkinson had the flu on Wednesday, so I don’t know that he can play Saturday…but if he can, it should be the same lineup LSU has had most of the season: Smart, Thomas, Wilkinson, Days, Watford. If Wilkinson can’t go, Aundre Hyatt likely starts instead.
  • I cannot stress enough how important it is to get Darius Days into foul trouble. When Days is on the court (about 63% of all possessions), LSU scores a luck-and-schedule-adjusted 1.284 PPP (would easily be #1 nationally). When he’s off, that number falls to 1.101 PPP, an 18-point drop, and LSU’s Assist Rate falls from 49.6% to a stunningly low 34.2%, meaning it’s mostly one-on-one scoring when he’s out.
  • Even after luck and schedule adjustments, the LSU defense is 14 points better when Cameron Thomas is off the floor. That said, the offense is 17 points better with him on, so who knows.

Tennessee:

  • As long as Yves Pons is back, it’ll be Vescovi, Johnson, Springer, Pons, and Fulkerson.
  • Again, that Vescovi/Johnson/Springer trio seems to be a pretty obvious backcourt for March. But what do you do with the trio of Pons, Fulkerson, and James?
  • The team is better with all three on the court…but Barnes has only given the Johnson/Springer/James/Pons/Fulkerson lineup 45 possessions this year and hasn’t appeared super thrilled by it.

Key matchups

Cameron Thomas vs. Keon Johnson. YES!!!!! I LOVE IT!!!!! This is my personal pick for SEC Player of the Year going up perhaps the best freshman defender in the SEC and a potential lottery pick. Thomas is going to score, certainly, but I think Keon can frustrate him into some bad looks and can certainly take Thomas in isolation on the other end. Barnes needs to get Thomas in negative situations as frequently as possible on defense.

Darius Days vs. Yves Pons. Also love it. Days is primarily a spot-up shooter at this point, which means Pons could rotate off if needed…but he also can’t, because Days is that good of a shooter. I’d prefer to switch Pons around so he can be the fix-it guy in the paint against a strong finishing LSU team. On the other end, Days is an okay defender, but Pons should be able to get off his beloved 12-footers.

Trendon Watford vs. John Fulkerson. Or also Pons, but mostly Fulkerson. This one is pretty simple: if Watford gets to the rim at will in the first half, Fulkerson will play very little in the second. If Fulkerson scores early and often in the post and is aggressive, he will play 30+ minutes against a mediocre defender.

Javonte Smart vs. Santiago Vescovi. Also not a good defender, but this is more about “can Vescovi keep Smart away from the rim without fouling?” If he can’t, Tennessee’s in serious trouble.

Three predictions

  1. Tennessee holds LSU to one of its five worst offensive performances of the season (1.07 PPP or lower);
  2. One of Keon Johnson or Jaden Springer scores 20+ points;
  3. Tennessee 75, LSU 72.

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