Skip to main content

LSU Basketball Faces Elite Defensive Opponent in No. 18 Tennessee

Tigers No. 1 ranked defense set to square off against Volunteers No. 2 ranked defense

The No. 21 LSU Tigers continue a difficult stretch as they host the No. 18 Tennessee Volunteers tonight in the PMAC. Completing a three-game stretch against nationally-ranked Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee, it marks the first time LSU has opened conference play with three consecutive AP ranked teams in school history.

It’ll be another heavyweight battle for LSU, with both the Tigers and Volunteers defensive rankings sitting atop the rest as we reach the midway mark of the season. It’s been a complete turnaround for head coach Will Wade’s squad from a year ago to now, locking in on the defensive end of the floor more than ever. 

For Tennessee, the active hands of their guards force consistent turnovers on their opponents, so it’ll be important for LSU to limit the cross court passes against such a defensively sound Volunteers team. 

A piece of the puzzle Wade has emphasized is the need to get back in transition defensively, a struggle for the Tigers to this point. Allowing easy baskets off of missed attempts has shot this team in the foot, and is something the Volunteers have thrived on to this point in the season. 

With Kennedy Chandler at the helm, the projected first-round point guard loves to get out and push the pace after missed shots by opponents, so it’ll be imperative the Tigers guards get back after the ball is shot to limit easy lay-ins for Tennessee.

“[Chandler] is tremendous,” Wade said. “Driving the ball, he’s a blur. He’s making threes about 35%, he can make them off the bounce. So, you got to be on point with your ball screen coverage, but you know, him and Zeigler both really push the ball in transition and they [Tennessee] haven’t really pushed the ball in transition in the past. And those guys really, really push.”

It’ll be a test for both Xavier Pinson and Eric Gaines to slow down the quick, twitchy guards of Tennessee, but the front court of Tennessee is a part of its game that also demands attention. With John Fulkerson and Olivier Nkamhou on the floor, the two do much of the dirty work for this team, providing second chance buckets and controlling the inside.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Senior forward Darius Days has leveled up on the defensive end this season for the Tigers, which is a key reason why this team’s defensive rating is so high. Much of Days’ success this season on defense has stemmed from him being more comfortable with who he’s guarding, not matching up against seven-footers like he’s had to in the past. 

Guarding guys his size and improving his lateral quickness has put him in better position.

"It's a little more natural position for him, a little more natural movement," Wade said. "He's a little more comfortable with what he's doing. We've got really good defensive personnel, guys that want to play both ends of the court. The scheme we're running isn't all that different from last year but we give our players a ton of credit."

To see success against Tennessee, the Tigers are going to need to limit turnovers, get to the rim for easy baskets and ramp up their transition defense. As much as Tennessee loves to get out and run for easy lay-ins, they thrive in getting open threes to fall, putting up close to 30 treys a night.

“They shoot a bunch of [threes],” Wade said. “They’re shooting them pretty well. So, we’ve got to buckle down defensively and do a good job on that.”

Getting into a shootout against Tennessee is the last thing Wade’s squad can do against such a fiery SEC opponent. Their ability to play well at all three levels keeps defenses on their toes and second guess their scheme. 

With lethal guard play and such a dynamic front court, this team’s offensive game is complete, but their defensive energy is what separates them from the rest.

The Tigers will have their hands full matching up against the Volunteers, but with the defensive intensity Wade has instilled in this unit and dependable bench production each night, this battle has all the makings of being an SEC classic.

Tip-off is set for 5:00 PM in the PMAC as the Tigers look to keep the momentum alive after a thrilling victory over the Kentucky Wildcats.