Posted: 5:00 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014
By Chris Pendley
It's the third of the seven key games of the season with Nikki Caldwell and the Lady Tigers taking on Tennessee. This one's in Knoxville.
Gametracker: well, duh
While Stanford was the second big test of the season, LSU is the third. Tennessee won't face a Chiney Ogwumike - or anybody on that level. With that being said, don't confuse LSU for an immediate pushover: the SEC is deep and LSU is arguably the third-best team in the league. Tennessee's favored here for sure - especially since the game is in Knoxville and home-court advantage is well in play - but LSU is good.
After a couple of beatdown-y sandwiches, LSU is an actual opponent. With that being said, Tennessee's done what you're supposed to do against horrifically overmatched opponents - beat the tar out of them. Witness the 110-42 win over Lipscomb as the most recent example.
LSU comes in at 10-2 with a respectable loss at Louisville (blowouts are going to happen to a lot of teams there) and a questionable loss on the road to NC State, who's good but not great. Their best skins on the wall look like Rutgers (who beat Georgia, which we're going to make fun of here in a few days) and, weirdly enough, St. Joe's, who's somehow #5 in RPI.
LSU makes their hay on the inside-outside game of Theresa Plaisance and Raigyne Moncrief. Danielle Ballard, Jeanna Kinney, and Shanece McKinney are the rest of the scorers, and I use that in the loosest sense of the term; Nikki Caldwell teams play defense. Everything else might be an accident. The thing that stands out is how efficient the team is, but it comes at a cost of slow pace. Kenney is the deep threat - Moncrief and Plaisance both make hay at the line, to put it mildly (6.3 and 5.8 FTA/game respectively). Oddly enough, Sheila Boykin has gotten a bunch of starts for reasons I'm unsure of.
Anyway, their offensive game looks simple: Plaisance will try and dominate the interior, Moncrief will drive and try and draw fouls (she's not a great shooter at 43% from the field) while Kenney and McKinney take up spots on the perimeter and interior, respectively. Ballard will distribute. In short, it's not anything that this team hasn't seen before, but their efficiency - and Plaisance - are the danger spots.
How does Tennessee deal with this?
Prediction: Tennessee 78, LSU 65. Depth, home-court advantage, and a key run should be enough in a game where I think the functional margin is closer to 7-8 before FTs push it out a bit late.
Odds Lisa Mattingly calls this game: please be zero please be zero please be zero
Chances that we have a preview without taking an unprompted run at Baylor: zero. This is the first of a tough three-game opening stretch for the Lady Vols, with Georgia and took-Baylor-to-the-wire Ole Miss on deck. (They're tough because they played Baylor tight, right?) Baylor also begins conference play tonight, so it'll be interesting to see them play more than one opponent over an 11-game stretch.
[ed: Hooper] Pendley took the best prediction already, so I'll roll with 80 - 66 just to be technically different. I'd also add that Tennessee has much better depth (I'd roll Tennessee's 6-10 over LSU's 6-10 any day of the week and not even blink), so that 14-2 spurt may very well come with 3 or 4 of Carter/Reynolds/Burdick/Russell/Moore on the floor, depending on what Caldwell rolls in answer. Alternatively, simply platooning the depth through the game and running LSU into the ground might cause a late run no matter who's on the floor, but that speaks to Pendley's points about keeping Harrison out of foul trouble and keeping Lisa Mattingly out of the state entirely.