Northwestern basketball plays its biggest game of the two-game old season as they open the pivotal Charleston Classic. I say pivotal because in a fairly weak non-con, this is an opportunity to win three games against decent-ish opposition. It starts with LSU tomorrow at 2 p.m., and you know it'll be going down in the game thread. Let's talk about it!
Are they good?: After beating then-No. 1 Alabama in the "Game of the Century" 9-6, LSU is pretty indisputably the best team in the country.
BASKETBALL: Oh, basketball. Well, not exactly. LSU was by pretty much any standard one of the worst major conference teams in the country last year, clocking in at No. 227 on the Kenpom rankings. (Wake Forest was worse, but other than that...) The Tigers managed three wins in SEC play, but, well, I mean, they went 3-13 in the SEC and there's not much more to say. The good news for the Tigers is that they had a very young team, featuring literally only one senior, role player Garrett Green, who is currently playing while pursuing a master's degree at San Diego State. However, two players who saw over 20 minutes a game in Aaron Dotson and Matt Derenbecker decided to transfer. We could have hoped that LSU had turned things around after an awful year last year, but a 71-63 loss to Coastal Carolina - the Chanticleers! probably doesn't help that concept.
Who they got?: Let's not really talk about players who were on the team last year: the star here is supposedly all-American power forward Johnny O'Bryant. He hasn't played that much in the team's first two games with a high of 21 minutes, but I'm writing about him since nobody from last year's squad really stands out. Sophomore small forward Ralston Turner was an all-SEC freshman after averaging 12.3 points per game last year, so there's that.
What are they good at?: LSU wasn't awful at interior defense last year, which will be helped even more with the addition of the big man O'Bryant.
What are they bad at?: Oh boy. Offense. All the offense. LSU was the worst major conference team offensively last season, scoring 92.8 points per 100 possessions. They hit 31.2 percent of their threes, 44.2 percent of their twos, and 66 percent of their free throws. They were also in the top 50 in the country at getting blocked and getting the ball stolen. These things look to have improved by hitting 11-24 from downtown against Nicholls St., but then they shot an impressively bad 35.4 percent from the field against Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers outrebounded LSU 51-32 including 19 offensive boards, so I'd also guess rebounding is an issue.
Us and them: NU leads the all-time series 2-1, but we haven't played since 1965, so they don't even know who Vedran Vukusic is.
Difference between the amount of times LSU have gone to the NCAA Tournament and Northwestern has gone: 20. Yes, 20. LSU isn't good now, and wasn't last year, or the year before that, but I mean, Shaquille O'Neal? Pete Maravich? And of course, the murderous combo of Tyrus Thomas and Glen "Big Baby" Davis? LSU actually won the SEC only three years ago, and obviously the Thomas-Davis tourney run a few years ago was dope.
Great names?: I am furious that former LSU player Daron Populist decided to transfer. If he was really a man of the people, he would've stayed.
How can NU win?: Force LSU to shoot and hit the boards. The 1-3-1 didn't come out against Texas-Pan American, it's made for games like today where you don't really mind giving up a lot of open looks because you know the opposing team won't hit them. Unfortunately, what appears to be one of LSU's weak points - rebounding - is also one of NU's, and we'll struggle to capitalize on that. I look to Luka Mirkovic's rebounding to be a factor in this game - if he can exploit the Tigers' weak rebounding skills and give NU an advantage in that category, NU's ability to get buckets should make this an easy W.
Should NU win?: Yes. LSU does not equal good, and NU needs this tourney.