Led by one of the best point guards in the Southeastern Conference, the LSU backcourt consists of three guards who can all score. Tremont Waters stands at just 5'11 and 167 pounds, but he's not going to back down to anyone. Similar to Tyler Ulis in that his size doesn't take anything away from his game, Waters is leading the team in scoring at 15.7 points per game, ranks third in the SEC in assists at 6.1 per game, and leads the SEC in steals at 3 per game.
While Ashton Hagans is great at getting in the passing lanes and taking chances for steals, his actual on-ball defense will be put to the serious test attempting to defend the quicker scorer in Waters. The starting two guard for LSU is 6'4" junior Skylar Mays. Mays is putting up 13.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2 steals per game this season, while shooting nearly 34% from three and over 87% from the foul line. Mays wants to stay out on the perimeter so Kentucky will be best suited trying to force him into the lane where they can disrupt his shot. The third scoring guard comes off the bench for Head Coach Will Wade. Freshman Ja'vonte Smart actually had drawn some interest from Kentucky before John Calipari chose to move forward with Immanuel Quickly. The four-star recruit is averaging 10.2 points in nearly 29 minutes off the bench. Despite being the third guard for LSU, he's shooting nearly 10 times a game, but only hitting less than 36% of his field goal attempts. Baiting Smart into a bad shot selection could be key to stopping him from becoming a factor in tonight's game.
2. While the three guards for LSU are enough to draw the attention of the Wildcat defensive effort, the Tigers actually have three bigs to worry about that rotate into the two forward positions.
Most notable of the three is freshman Naz Reid. Reid was a 5-star and top-20 player out of high school, measuring at 6'10" and 240 pounds. The freshman is second on the team in scoring, first on the team in rebounding, and second on the team in blocked shots despite playing under 25 minutes a game. Reid also has the ability to step away from the basket, hitting 21 threes this season at a 37% clip. Starting alongside Reid is senior and former Oregon Duck, Kavell Bigby-Williams. Bigby-Williams is 6'11" and 230 pounds, and averages 7.8 points, 6 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in 19.1 minutes. Off the bench is 6'7"-215 pound freshman Emmitt Williams who was another 5-star and top 25 player for the Tigers. He's playing 21 minutes per contest and contributing 7.8 points and 5.8 boards. The three bigs make LSU one of the bigger and most talented post presences that Kentucky has faced in conference play.
A consistent problem for Kentucky through this stretch of solid play has been slow starts on the offensive end. While it hasn't come back to bite them in any games as of late, LSU might be the team that could put the game out of reach early with their style of play if the Cats start slow.
The Tigers are third in the SEC in scoring, at 83.3 points per contest, good for 18th in the country. For comparison, Kentucky is just 53rd in the country in scoring. LSU is one of the top teams in the SEC and their numbers back it up. On top of their scoring, they lead the SEC in free throws made per game, they're fourth in the conference in total rebounding and rank second in offensive rebounding, while also leading the SEC in steals. The one weakness that Kentucky could exploit is that LSU tends to get careless with the ball. Third in the conference in turnovers per game, the Tigers have three starters combining for over eight turnovers per contest.
In just his second season as the Head Coach at LSU, Will Wade has formed the Tigers into one of the hottest teams in the country. While LSU may not have a marquee win so far this season, they do have plenty of good wins, including over Auburn and at Ole Miss. The Tigers have been on a tear as of late, winning 12 of their last 13 games dating back to the second week of December.
The only loss in that stretch is a one-point loss against Arkansas in which LSU had the ball on the final possession with a chance to win the game. This team is riding high off the momentum of their play over the last two months. Sitting at an overall record of 19-4 with only one loss in 2019 is impressive with how talented the SEC is this season.
5. In the 10 years that John Calipari has been manning the sidelines for the Wildcats, Kentucky is 11-2 in games against LSU.
The good news for Kentucky is that both losses to the Tigers took place in Baton Rouge, but both have come when Kentucky was a highly ranked team. In 2016, Kentucky got a combined 44 points from Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, but unfortunately, no other player scored more than 6 and unranked LSU beat up on the #9 Cats by the score of 85-67. The other loss was in 2014, as the #11 Cats had no answer for Johnny O'Bryant's 29 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks as unranked LSU picked up the upset victory. If history in this series tells us anything, it is that Kentucky will hold serve at home, but it is definitely not a given with this year's LSU squad. The Tigers are really talented and athletic so the Cats absolutely cannot be looking ahead to Tennessee on Saturday.
Go Cats. Beat Tigers.