If you think the LSU basketball team’s game at Memphis on Thursday night is just another ordinary, run-of-the-mill nonconference matchup, think again.
On the periphery, it may look like the visiting Tigers’ final tune-up for the start of Southeastern Conference play next week.
But when LSU (8-3) and Memphis (9-3) meet at 8 p.m. in the FedExForum, the contest will have more meaning for Will Wade’s team than just being the last game before its SEC opener against Kentucky in six days.
In essence, it’ll be a dry run for the SEC schedule because it’ll be the first and only true road outing for LSU, and will come against a foe that will be comparable to teams the Tigers will see in league play.
“Yeah, that’s the way I look at it,” Wade said. “We had a wide slot here, and I thought this would be a good place to slip it in (and) see how we are as we get ready to go into the league. If we’re not quite ready, we’ve got five or six days before we have another home game.”
Like many coaches in the Power Five conferences, Wade is in favor of just one or two true road games with the majority of the nonconference slate on the home floor or at neutral sites.
With LSU not participating in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge this year, it was no accident that Wade decided to play his one road game right before diving into the 18-game league slate.
In its final game prior to a three-day Christmas break, the LSU basketball team did what it has been trying to do all season.
Just after his team’s most recent game, a 104-52 belting of North Florida on Friday, Wade hinted that, while every game on the schedule is important, the Memphis matchup would be more like a conference game.
In other words, it’ll best prepare his team for what’s to come.
“You've got to be tough on the road," he said. You've got to be tight (fundamentally) on the road, you have to overwhelm the other team with your spirit,” Wade said. “Your bench has to be good, and everybody’s got to be engaged.
“You’re going to have to scrape out two or three plays that are tight plays, so whether we can do that or not is to be determined. We prepared as well as we can in the summer and fall to hopefully play better in these situations.”
LSU will be looking to finish off its nonconference slate with some added momentum after overwhelming Sam Houston State and North Florida by 32 and 52 points, respectively, before its three-day Christmas break.
“This is a great opportunity for us to move forward going into the SEC schedule,” guard Skylar Mays said Tuesday when the Tigers returned to practice. “It’s real important because getting a road win like that would add something to our nonconference résumé.
“It could be a big momentum-builder for conference play, so it’s a real important game for us.”
The LSU men’s basketball team got exactly what it needed Friday night.
Wade is eager to see how his team responds to one of its better defensive games after struggling on that end of the floor early in the season.
LSU allowed a season-low 19 field goals and held North Florida to 31.7 percent shooting after Sam Houston State shot just 35.4 percent in the previous game, although Wade said that was mainly because of poor shooting by its opponent.
The task becomes tougher Thursday night, which is but one of Wade’s concerns going on the road.
One big one is turnovers. LSU has had just eight in each of its past two games, but averaged 14.7 in a three-game stretch before that with a season-tying high of 17 in a maddening, one-point loss to Stephen F. Austin.
“First off, I worry about turning the ball over,” Wade said. “You know, on the road, tough environment. You can’t turn the ball over; you can’t give a team extra cracks.
“I worry about that, and I worry about our defensive communication because it’s a little different when you’re at home or at a neutral site. So I worry about baseline out-of-bounds, all that stuff defensively. That’s a concern.”
WHAT: LSU at Memphis
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: FedExForum, Memphis, Tenn.
TV: CBS Sports Network
RADIO: WDGL-FM, 98.1; WWWL-AM, 1350; KLWB-FM, 103.7
UP NEXT: vs. Kentucky, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (SEC Network)
• Memphis coach Tubby Smith will go against LSU for the 17th time in his 27-year career. He’s 12-4 against the Tigers.
• LSU guard Randy Onwuasor played his first two seasons at Texas Tech for Smith before transferring to Southern Utah.
• LSU, which is hitting 52.0 percent from the field, ranks second in the nation on shots inside the 3-point arc (61.3 percent).
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Tremont Waters 5-11 Fr. 17.0 6.3*
G Skylar Mays 6-4 So. 12.6 4.2
G Daryl Edwards 6-3 Jr. 6.7 1.6
F Aaron Epps 6-10 Sr. 10.1 6.3
F Duop Reath 6-11 Sr. 12.6 4.5
G Brandon Sampson 6-5 Jr. 9.4 3.8
F Wayde Sims 6-6 So. 7.5 3.9
G Randy Onwuasor 6-3 Sr. 5.3 2.0
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Jeremiah Martin 6-3 Jr. 18.6 3.9*
G Jamal Johnson 6-3 Fr. 6.9 2.5
G/F Raynere Thornton 6-6 Jr. 5.4 3.8
F Mike Parks 6-8 Jr. 3.4 2.9
F Kyvon Davenport 6-8 Jr. 13.1 6.3
G/F David Nickelberry 6-6 Fr. 3.5 2.9
G Malik Rhodes 6-2 Jr. 2.8 0.2
G Kareem Brewton 6-2 Jr. 8.4 2.6