The Nittany Lions enjoyed a team Thanksgiving down in Niceville, Florida yesterday and tonight they will play against LSU in their first of two contests in the four-team field resembling the Emerald Coast Classic. Wake Forest and Oregon State will play in the game following PSU-LSU, with the respective winners and losers of both games playing each other in the second game tomorrow. LSU has breezed through the early part of their schedule and are off to a 5-0 start, including an 83-53 beatdown over recent NCAA Tournament team Belmont.
Scouting The Opposition
Similar to Cornell, LSU is a team that plays up-tempo, as they rank 59th in KenPom in adjusted tempo (71.2 possessions per game) and 21st in average possession length (15.2 seconds). Scoring-wise, they are led by forward Darius Days, who is averaging 19.2 points per game and has shot a sizzling 18-of-33 from three-point range (54 percent), in addition to bringing down 7.4 rebounds. Forward Tari Eason is also a guy to look out for, as the team’s second-leading scorer (14.0 ppg) and top rebounder (8.8 rpg), as well as center Efton Reid, who averages over 10 points and 1.5 blocks per game.
The Tigers backcourt is led by Eric Gaines and Xavier Pinson, who have both done solid jobs dropping dimes (Gaines averages 5.4 assists/game while Pinson averages 4.8 apg). Although their shooting leaves a bit more to be desired, they are both solid defenders, especially Gaines, who averages nearly 2.5 steals per game. Astonishingly enough, Gaines is not even LSU’s top pick-pocketer, as that title belongs to forward Mwani Wilkinson, who averages 3.4 steals per game. Considering how this PSU squad has struggled with turnovers in the early part of this season, these are the stats that give you the absolute chills.
What To Watch For
Penn State was ultimately able to prevail against Cornell’s up-tempo pace, even though the Big Red’s press gave them some trouble at times. LSU is a more talented team than Cornell though, even if they don’t play quite as fast, but still up-tempo enough to give the Nittany Lions some real problems. Press-breaking will key, as will PSU being able to set the pace of the game, as opposed to allowing the opponent to do so. Perimeter defense will also need some serious cleaning up if the Lions hope to keep this one competitive and have a puncher’s chance of pulling off the upset.
The Lions gutted out a nice come-from-behind win over Cornell when things looked like they could derail similarly to the UMass debacle. I have no doubt this team will continue to improve as the season goes on and the current roster gets more comfortable playing with each other. Unfortunately, LSU is a buzzsaw of a team whose coach Will Wade, is an American Gangster. More importantly, LSU has strengths that play right into PSU’s weaknesses regarding perimeter defense and turnovers. As much as I’d love to see the Lions go blow-for-blow with the Tigers, my gut tells me that LSU wins handily and covers the spread.
LSU 80, Penn State 65