Perhaps you are familiar with DJ Khaled’s keys to success, if not then you can easily become accustomed to the concept as we break down the keys to winning a big-time college basketball game. On Tuesday night, it’s Kentucky heading to Baton Rouge to face LSU in a star-studded nationally televised contest.
Nothing will fire up the hype for a midseason college basketball game quite like the presence of highly touted freshman. On Tuesday night when Kentucky and LSU play in Baton Rouge, five of the top 16 players from the Class of 2015 (No. 1 Ben Simmons, No. 2 Skal Labissiere, No. 10 Jamal Murray, No. 12 Isaiah Briscoe, No. 16 Antonio Blakeney) will be in action.
For LSU, the spotlight on Simmons is deserved. He’s the team’s leader in points (20.5), rebounds (13.1), assists (5.4), steals (2.1), blocks (1.4) and is shooting 57.4 percent from the field. At 8-5 with losses to College of Charleston and Marquette, LSU is already trying to make up for a slow start in hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament and allowing Simmons to lead the Tigers on the game’s biggest stage. SEC play started well with a win at Vanderbilt, but there is very little room for error moving forward.
While Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have been great in stretches for Kentucky, Labissiere, the player with arguably the most hype outside of Simmons, has been working to find a solid role in the rotation coming off the bench.
Many expected to be seeing Skal or Murray rounding into form as SEC play was starting, but it’s actually been sophomore Tyler Ulis and junior Marcus Lee that have emerged recently as the most consistent performers on Kentucky’s deep rotation. Against Ole Miss, Ulis became the first player in school history to record at least 20 points, 10 assists and six steals in win vs. Ole Miss. Lee is currently shooting 74.4 percent over his last seven games and had 13 points and eight rebounds in the win against Ole Miss.
So now we get to the keys. Bless up.
Ben Simmons needs to be active, aggressive and efficient
Simmons enters Tuesday night’s contest coming off one of his best offensive performances of the season, going for 36 points, 14 rebounds and four assists (10-for-14 field goals, 16-for-19 field goals) in LSU’s 90-82 win at Vanderbilt. LSU’s kryptonite on offensive this season is wasted possessions and you simply cannot give away opportunities against a Kentucky team that thrives on efficiency turning your mistakes into easy buckets.
No one doubts that Ben Simmons is one of the best freshman in the country — he has taken up residence in the No. 1 spot of our CBS Sports Freshman of the Year Watch, only to be tested by Marquette’s Henry Ellenson. But there is some doubt to LSU’s ability to make the NCAA Tournament. A win against Kentucky will go a long way in getting the committee’s approval, and I don’t think that win happens without a great night from Simmons.
Skal’s chance for the spotlight
Skal and Simmons have traded 1 and 2 rankings throughout their scouting and recruitment, but those comparisons have been tabled since the Australian star far surpassed Labissiere in terms of impact in the early part of the season.
But while the Skal-Simmons matchup will demand attention, look for Kentucky to throw a combination of players at Simmons; Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee and maybe even Isaiah Briscoe could see time chasing the versatile forward around the floor.
Instead of winning one-on-one matchups (of which there may not be many), Labissiere’s expectations should extend beyond Tuesday night’s much-hyped meeting. This may be a one-night stage for Simmons, but Skal, at his best and most consistent, can help this team compete for a national title. Finding that role is much more important than winning the “tale of the tape” against Simmons.
LSU’s counterpunch (and how Kentucky defends it)
John Calipari said this week, on the SEC coaches teleconference, that defending LSU required both a “plan A” and a “plan B” because of the impact of Simmons on the floor.
“He is a 6-9 point guard-ish guy that will go inside, score next to the basket, makes free throws so you can’t foul him, and in transition, when he brings it up, he’s a great playmaker,” Calipari said. “But they’ve got guards that can really shoot the ball. They have veteran guards who play off of him and do really good too. So, if you think, let’s just stop him, those other guys will get you for 30.”
Senior guard Keith Hornsby has been great since he returned to action and does play well off Simmons. Through six games, he’s averaging 17.5 points per game and hitting 45.2 percent of his three-point shots.
Get Pistol Pete’s house rocking
Kentucky and LSU only met once last season, on Feb. 10, and on that night Pete Maravich Assembly Center was the loudest house in college hoops. The Baton Rouge crowd powered a strong LSU team with future NBA players (though none as coveted as Ben Simmons) against the Wildcats, undefeated at the time and loaded with even more NBA talent. Jarrell Martin, Jordan Mickey and Keith Hornsby even got the Tigers the lead in the last five minutes but Johnny Jones’ team was unable to close the game out for the upset.
Thankfully we get two Kentucky-LSU games this year, but only one in Baton Rouge. Tuesday night is the best time for the Tigers to get some revenge, hopefully with its star freshman leading the way.