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Two weeks ago, Tennessee and LSU squared off in Baton Rouge with conference play just tipping off. But a lot changed in fourteen days. Heading into today’s game at 6 p.m. Eastern on ESPN, both teams now sit at 3-3 in SEC play, looking for help on offense and making changes to the lineup to try and find a spark.
It’s pretty obvious to Tennessee fans why Rick Barnes has tweaked his starting lineup. Though a leader, John Fulkerson is going through a slump, and replacing him with Uros Plavsic paid off against Vanderbilt. Plavsic had a fantastic night on the court, finishing with 13 points and 7 rebounds.
Rick Barnes says he’s not scared to change things to try and find a better fit.
“I have told you guys every year since I have been here, I don’t really care who starts the game. I am more interested in who we have to have to finish it. I think the first four minutes of the game are important. I think the most important part of the game is the three minutes coming out of halftime. We will go in and come up with a starting lineup based on what we see with consistency every day in practice.”
Lineup problems are also hurting the Tigers, with Darius Days getting injured in the Alabama loss and Xavier Pinson not playing. Two key players for LSU limping into Knoxville is not what Will Wade had in mind for this game. But there’s a reason why the Tigers are 15-3 on the season, and it starts at the top. Wade may not be the most likable coach in college basketball, but he does get the most out of his players, which can’t be said for some coaches in this league. His outbursts on the sidelines or in the postgame news conference might look fake or cringeworthy, but what he does inside the locker room seems to be working.
Also, Will Wade spoke on Friday about the status of PG Xavier Pinson and F Darius Days for tonight’s game.
“I would guess we’re going to have Days tomorrow. There’ll be a better chance than not that he’ll play.
“X (Xavier Pinson) is making really good progress. He was moving well today, but I don’t think he’s quite ready to play tomorrow,” Wade added. “I would say he’s out tomorrow. I would be hopeful that we could have him back for our game Wednesday (Texas A&M, 9 p.m. eastern, SEC Network). If not Wednesday, then certainly the game next Saturday (at TCU, noon eastern, ESPN2).”
But this matchup on Saturday feels a little different. The Tigers have won four straight games over Tennessee, and Rick Barnes knows what LSU brings to the court every time they play, no matter the location.
“I think they’re athletic. I think the way that Will (Wade) wants to build his team, I think I would say athletic and quickness. I think he likes offensive-minded players. They’ve changed their style from a year ago…their defense is different in terms of they’re trying to create a lot of offense with their defense. If you go back and look, they get 23 or 24 points per game off of their defense.”
So, this is when Tennessee finally has to come out of its shell. We know how good this squad is on defense, and that defense will likely show up again tonight. But the offense needs Kennedy Chandler and Santiago Vescovi to lead the way, with the help of Zakai Zeigler. To take advantage of the wounded Tigers, the Vols must make the Tigers uncomfortable on defense with great guard play. If Josiah-Jordan James, who suffered a blow to the head against Vanderbilt, returns for the Vols, then Barnes can really try to expose one of the Tigers’ few weaknesses.
“He’s working his way back. It will really be a game-time decision,” Barnes mentioned about the availability of James for tonight.
The Tennessee lineup will stay the same. Uros Plavsic will get the start again over John Fulkerson, and hopefully he brings that same type of energy to the floor that we witnessed in Nashville. The interesting part will be how much time Fulkerson gets tonight.
If Tennessee is going to win this pivotal matchup, they also have to do better from the FT line. In the first outing, they were 23-37, which won’t win you many games in this league.
The Tigers might have a bit of Knoxville fatigue by tonight as well. After they lost to Alabama on Wednesday night, the chartered plane that was supposed to take them home to Baton Rouge had mechanical problems. So they spent the remaining night in Tuscaloosa and then headed for Knoxville on Thursday, practicing in town for the last two days.
You hate to put too much pressure on these type of games, but both teams really need a W. The Tigers have won six-of-the-last-seven games in the series, but the Vols are undefeated (9-0) at home this season. So, something has to give tonight, with Tennessee hoping to nap the previously mentioned four-game losing streak.
Kennedy Chandler set the tone for this matchup after the Vanderbilt win on Wednesday night.
“LSU, it’s payback. We lost to them on the road and we want to beat them. It’s a revenge game, and we gotta come in and we know they’ll be ready to play against us. Our goal is to get the win.”