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Nation’s Top Two Defenses Collide Saturday In Baton Rouge

will wade lsu pre tennessee

No. 18 Tennessee heads to Baton Rouge to face No. 21 LSU at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday evening.

The Vols are looking for their first win against the Tigers since 2018 and their first win in Baton Rouge since March of 2015.

LSU enters the matchup 13-1 (1-1 SEC) earning wins over Kentucky, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. The Tigers’ lone loss came in their SEC opener at Auburn.

“You look at them and they will rebound, run, given the opportunity they are going to shoot it,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “I think they play unselfish together. In addition, I think that Will (Wade) has a team he really likes because they are giving him effort on both ends.”

The matchup pits the nation’s two top defenses against one another and has the makings for a low scoring battle.

According to KenPom, LSU has the nation’s top defense while Tennessee has the nation’s second best defense. While the Vols were elite on the defensive end a season ago, LSU has made breathtaking improvements.

The Tigers ranked 124th in defensive efficiency a season ago but with a different core, LSU’s identity has completely changed.

“Well, they switch almost one through five and are willing to do that,” Barnes said. “They are very aggressive in terms of attacking the ball. They really go at it like that. They do have the pressure they use, the full-court pressure, two to one it. They can turn it around and match it any way they like to do it. But the key in any game when you are playing against an outstanding defensive team is taking care of the basketball. You have to get attempts. You have to hope you can get yourself to the foul line. You have to make them work and not let them have it knowing they are going to be very aggressive in terms of getting the ball. They are always swiping at it, digging at it, trying to break it away. You have to be strong with the ball.”

Texas Tech’s ability to switch all ball screens gave Tennessee massive issues in the battle at Madison Square Garden.

Unlike the Red Raiders — who started five players between 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-8 — LSU’s switches will give the Vols opportunities at point guard and center. The Tigers’ two-through-four are between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-7, but point guard Xavier Pinson (6-foot-2) and center Efton Reid (7-foot) will create switch opportunities.

Still, nothing will come easy against this LSU defense. The Tigers have been dominant in near every defensive category. LSU ranks fourth in effective field goal percentage, sixth in turnover percentage, 10th in both two-point and three-point defense, eight in block percentage and first in steal percentage.

Compare that to Tennessee — who has been undoubtedly elite on defense this season. The Vols rank 54th in effective field goal percentage, 11th in turnover percentage, 105th in three-point defense, 40th in two-point defense, 19th in block percentage and third in steal percentage. 

The one major statistical advantage the Vols have had over LSU is non steal turnover percentage where the Tigers rank 188th and Tennessee ranks 97th.

As Barnes mentioned Friday, taking care of the ball will be a huge factor in Saturday’s showdown. That’s been a strength of Tennessee’s all season as the Vols turn it over on 16.2% of its possessions compared to LSU’s 19.6%.

While LSU has made major improvements on the defensive end, they’ve taken a step back on the offensive end. With talented stars Javonte Smart, Cam Thomas and Trendon Watford, LSU ranked fifth in offensive efficiency and averaged 76.8 points per game.

With all three of those players gone, LSU is struggling to find consistency on the offensive end. The Tigers rank 86th in offensive efficiency and are one of the conference’s worst three-point shooting teams.

ESPN2 is broadcasting the game with Tom Hart and Daymeon Fishback on the call. On the Vol Network radio call, former SEC Player of the Year Ron Slay will fill in for color commentator Bert Bertelkamp.

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