In a matter of five nights, the LSU basketball team's highly anticipated, long-ago sold-out matchup with Tennessee lost a little bit of its luster.
First, Tennessee was knocked off its perch as the nation’s No. 1 team by Kentucky last Saturday, and two days later, dropped to fifth in The Associated Press poll.
Then, No. 13 LSU, which had climbed six spots in the AP rankings, fell to unranked Florida on Wednesday night to spoil what could have been a huge showdown for first place in the Southeastern Conference race.
Nonetheless, Saturday’s 11 a.m. contest between LSU (21-5, 11-2 SEC) and Tennessee (24-2, 12-1) in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center is extremely important.
It’ll be the first time two top-15 teams have met in the PMAC since Dec. 5, 2006, when No. 9 LSU recorded a 64-52 win over No. 6 Texas A&M.
However, that game was a nonconference affair since A&M was still six years away from becoming an SEC member.
Saturday’s game will have a huge impact on the league standings. No. 4 Kentucky, which is tied for second place with LSU, surely will be an interested spectator with just four regular-season games left when the day is done.
LSU coach Will Wade, who was visibly upset Wednesday after the Tigers' 82-77 overtime loss, wasn’t exactly feeling comfortable Friday with Tennessee, which spent four weeks atop the atop the Associated Press poll, coming in next.
“I do not feel good playing a team like Tennessee, because they're really good; they bring some of those same components to the table,” he said. “Every team should get our attention, but I do not feel particularly great about it just because they are good.
“They are really good: They’re physical, they’re well-coached ... and they do things that are different.”
Wade said Tennessee doesn’t set a lot of ball screens and runs a motion offense — very much like the Davidson teams he went against during his time at VCU.
“(Tennessee) is just an elite version of what Davidson does,” he said.
The Vols were playing at another level, cruising along with a school-record 19-game winning streak, when they were derailed by Kentucky 86-69.
Then, Rick Barnes’ team struggled a bit Wednesday night before grinding out a 58-46 win over Vanderbilt, which is winless in league play.
But last week doesn’t matter much to Wade. What catches his attention is a veteran club that starts three juniors and two seniors.
Junior forward Grant Williams was last year's SEC player of the year and this year's SEC preseason player of the year, and senior guard Admiral Schofield, senior forward Kyle Alexander and junior guards Jordan Bone and Lamonte Turner have been solid this season.
Williams, who averages 19.1 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists a game, is the big threat, but Schofield gets 16.5 points and 6.3 rebounds a game from the small forward spot.
Bone, the point guard, averages 13.2 points and 6.5 assists, while Turner averages 11.2 points per game.
Tennessee relies heavily on getting the ball in the paint area, which helped the Vols become the SEC’s top offense in averaging 83.7 points and shooting an astounding 50.7 percent from the field.
According to KenPom.com, they rank second in the nation and first in the SEC in adjusted offensive efficiency.
So keeping Schofield, Williams and Alexander from doing too much damage close to the basket will be a key.
“The only difference between their offense and our offense is they shoot a little bit higher percentage from (3-point range) and they don’t turn the ball over as much as we do,” Wade said. “They get the ball in the paint, which is why they’re the second-most efficient offense in the country.
“Being able to get in the paint and win the paint war is going to be a big part of the game. They can pound the paint.”
Given that, Wade said keeping his big men — forwards Kavell Bigby-Williams, Naz Reid, Darius Days and Emmitt Williams — out of foul trouble is a must.
“We’re not going to be able to get in foul trouble … we need to keep our best horses on the floor for sure,” he said. “They’re an extremely, extremely physical team, so we need to be able to match or exceed their physicality.”
That was a big problem against Florida, but Wade said there is a silver lining: His team gets excited for big games — like a more-mature Tennessee team does every night.
“They’re so good; they don’t lose any games they’re not supposed to lose,” Wade said of the Vols. “I wish I could get that across to our team. They’re all excited about this game obviously, but they’re all important.
"The Florida game was important, the Arkansas game was important … every single one of them is important.”
None more than this one, obviously.
The past 10 top-5 opponents to play LSU at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center
Date Opponent Result
Jan. 20, 2016 No. 1 Oklahoma, L 77-75
Feb. 10, 2015 No. 1 Kentucky, L 71-69
Jan. 28, 2012 No. 1 Kentucky, L 74-50
Feb. 6, 2010 No. 4 Kentucky, L 81-55
Feb. 24, 2007 No. 3 Florida, W 66-56
Jan. 28, 2003 No. 4 Florida, L 70-53
Dec. 21, 2002 No. 1 Arizona, W 66-65
Jan. 29, 2000 No. 5 Arizona, W 86-60
Jan. 16, 1996 No. 2 Kentucky, L 129-97
Dec. 17, 1994 No. 2 UCLA, L 92-72
WHAT: No. 5 Tennessee at No. 13 LSU
WHEN: 11 a.m. Saturday
WHERE: Pete Maravich Assembly Center
RADIO: WDGL-FM, 98.1; WWL-AM, 1350; KLWB-FM, 103.7
UP NEXT: vs. Texas A&M, 8 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN2)
• LSU coach Will Wade is 1-1 in the Maravich Assembly center and 4-6 overall against ranked foes since taking over the program two seasons ago.
• Following a buzzer-beating 73-71 road win over Kentucky on Feb. 12, LSU is 2-38 all-time against teams in the top 5 of the Associated Press rankings.
• The matchup of No. 13 LSU and No. 5 Tennessee will be the fifth time in the 111-game series that both teams are ranked. The Tigers have a 3-1 edge when that happens.
Tennessee (24-2, 12-1 SEC)
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Jordan Bone 6-3 Jr. 13.2 6.5*
G Lamonte Turner 6-2 Jr. 11.2 2.5
G Admiral Schofield 6-6 Sr. 16.5 6.3
F Grant Williams 6-7 Jr. 19.1 7.6
F Kyle Alexander 6-11 Sr. 8.2 6.6
G Jordan Bowden 6-5 Jr. 10.8 3.2
F John Fulkerson 6-9 So. 3.6 2.7
G/F Yves Pons 6-6 So. 2.9 2.2
LSU (21-5, 11-2 SEC)
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Tremont Waters 5-11 So. 15.7 5.9*
G Skylar Mays 6-4 Jr. 13.2 3.0
G Marlon Taylor 6-5 Jr. 7.2 3.7
F Naz Reid 6-10 Fr. 13.8 6.6
F Kavell Bigby-Williams 6-11 Sr. 7.8 6.0
G Javonte Smart 6-4 Fr. 10.2 2.3*
F Emmitt Williams 6-6 Fr. 7.6 5.5
F Darius Days 6-6 Fr. 5.3 4.1