In just a few short hours from now, the (9) seed LSU Tigers will square off against the (8) seed North Carolina State Wolfpack in the NCAA Tournament East Regional at the Colson Energy Center Arena in Pittsburgh, at 8:15 p.m. tonight on TBS; and the Big Easy Believer has your exclusive Preview.
N.C. State (20-13, 10-8 ACC) is coming off of a rough 77-53 loss to Duke in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. Take that result with a grain of salt though, because the Wolfpack handed the mighty Blue Devils 87-75 their first loss earlier in the season.
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Two more signature wins came against Louisville, 74-65, and other state rival North Carolina, 58-46. In addition, the Wolfpack came within two points of taking down the Tar Heels again in a nail-biting 81-79 shootout.
In all of these games the mighty trio of Trevor Lacey, Ralston Turner and Anthony Barber have carried the scoring load from the backcourt. While Lacey and Turner do most of their work from the perimeter, Barber likes to operate from inside the three point line.
Mar 11, 2015; Greensboro, NC, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack guards Anthony Barber (12) and Trevor Lacey (1) react at the end of the game. The Wolfpack defeated the Panthers 81-70 in the second round at Greensboro Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
These three alone combined to provide 54% of made field goals throughout the regular season, proof that the offensive success of the Wolfpack lies in their hands.
With that said, a cold shooting night can spell disaster for N.C. State. Tough losses to Wofford and Cincinnati stand out in this respect, as they just could not put together anything resembling a nice scoring run.
They only average 11.6 assists per game as a team (256th in the nation), so if shots are not falling it will be tough to get in a rhythm.
With the offense usually in good hands, the frontcourt is left to scrap for loose balls, battle for positioning and make sure the sets are executed well. LSU must keep tabs on forwards Lennard Freeman and Abdul-Malik Abu or else the Wolfpack will pounce on multiple extra possessions on the offensive end.
Kyle Washington and Beejay Anya steady the ship on defense, anchoring a team that averages 5.3 blocks per game (16th in the nation). Though LSU’s strength lies in their frontcourt, they will have to earn every bucket against the tough Wolfpack big men.
The LSU Tigers (22-10, 11-7 SEC) did not have their schedule littered with high ranked teams, but they did manage to bump into the number one ranked Kentucky team a little more than a month ago.
The Tigers gave the still undefeated Wildcats a legitimate run for their money, but ended up squandering their lead, losing 71-69.
Feb 10, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Tyler Ulis (3) shoots over LSU Tigers guard Tim Quarterman (55) during the first half of a game at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 24, 2015; Auburn, AL, USA; LSU Tigers forward Jordan Mickey (25) takes a shot over the Auburn Tigers during the first half at Auburn Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
LSU, unlike N.C. State, lean more on their forwards to lead their offensive production. Jarell Martin (16.9 PPG) and Jordan Mickey (15.5 PPG) are a solid frontcourt tandem who almost always cause trouble for opposing teams.
With Martin at 6′ 10″ and Mickey at 6’8″, it is hard to find enough athleticism and size on the floor at once to stop the both of them from tearing apart the defense.
This tandem’s work does not stop on the scoreboard. They also contribute a combined 19 rebounds per game, 4.3 blocks per game, and 2.3 steals per game.
That helps explain why the Tigers rank 7th and 8th in the nation in blocks (6.2) and defensive rebounds per game (27.1) respectively.
Guards Keith Hornsby and Tim Quarterman will have their work cut out for them in their efforts to slow the Wolfpack frontcourt. As long as they prevent easy lanes to the basket and force Lacey and Turner to try and beat them from deep, they should be in decent shape.
Tournament games between the 8th and 9th seeds are historically close, with 39.2% of the matchups since 1985 being decided by 5 points or fewer. I expect that this game will be no different, as both teams are about as equally matched as they come.
As far as my prediction goes I believe that the Tigers will be able to pull ahead early, but the Wolfpack will keep it close in the second half before LSU finally snatches the victory — winning by a score of 69-65, setting up a showdown with #1 East Regional seed Villanova on Saturday……..