Tonight in Baton Rouge we have a matchup of a couple pick-pocketing teams looking to establish themselves before the deep conference slate gets muddy. Texas A&M has surprised a great many by finding themselves near the top of the SEC with just a pair of SEC losses thus far (Kentucky & Arkansas) and are tied in the loss column for second in the conference. LSU has dropped 4 of 7 since starting the season 12-0 and all four have been inside the confines of the SEC but find themselves as a 10.5-point favorite. What’s up?
First we should address the challenger. Texas A&M beat up on a paltry non-conference schedule and three struggling SEC teams to beef up to 15-1. Period and end of story and it wasn’t until the Kentucky game (at home) a week ago that we started to see if Buzz Williams’ group was a worthy foe. They lost they game (but covered by 1) and then subsequently lost in an overtime rematch with resurging Arkansas (whom has since won four in a row). The consensus? WHO KNOWS? The numbers, in general, are hard to trust, but their style is one that’s conducive to winning. It’s aggressive, it’s handsy, it’s forcing the issue, it’s everything you’d probably want your defense doing. They are fifth in the country in steals per game (10.8) and 10th in the nation in turnover-ratio. They force 5.2 more turnovers than they commit. They may not have a lot of numbers and players that jump off the page, but that’s one of them and with margins like that, you give yourself a chance in most games.
That’s a big reason I think this game is more interesting than the spread implies. LSU was a paper tiger opening up the season at 12-0. They got into SEC play and opened by getting run by Auburn but when they beat Kentucky I wanted to reconsider their efforts. As good of a win as it was, Kentucky did lose two crucial players to injury in that game and another to early foul trouble. They’ve now lost three in a row and it’s almost always come down to their Achilles’ heel: they can’t shoot. They are 144th in points per game, 174th in FG percentage and 257th in 3-point percentage (out of 357). When they need offense, when they are struggling for a bucket, it’s been really hard to find. Their defense is elite and part of the reason for their success is EASY buckets. They are #1 in the country in steals per game. However, if they aren’t getting them, it’s a struggle to get points. On the season they average 73.3 points per game but during this losing streak they average 58.3.
LSU will have home court and a wildly opportunistic defense, but I don’t know how this gets to double digits. LSU is 303rd in the nation in turnovers per game. They give the ball away 14.7 times per game. If you’ve read anything I have done on college basketball you know what I am about to type: defense travels. It’s one of the few sports cliches I believe in and when they defense travels to a struggling offense, it’s even more true. It’s all a recipe for an upset or at the very least a dog cover so tonight, I will take the Aggies +10.5. I don’t think Texas A&M is a good enough team to win in Baton Rouge, but hell I don’t know much about them anyway. All I know is that they are forcing 16.2 turnovers per game in SEC play and I can get behind that.