LSU (15-8, 6-6 SEC) at Tennessee (14-10, 6-6 SEC)
Tuesday, Feb. 19, 7:00 p.m. ET
Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) . Knoxville, Tenn.
Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)
Series Record: Tennessee leads, 60-43
Probable LSU Starters
F-Johnny O’Bryant III, 6-9, 256, SO, (13.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg)
C-Andrew Del Piero, 7-3, 254, SR, (4.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, .586 FG%)
G-Malik Morgan, 6-4, 188, FR, (5.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.5 spg)
G-Andre Stringer, 5-10, 182, JR, (10.7 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
G-Anthony Hickey, 5-11, 178, SO, (11.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.9 apg)
Key Reserves: Shavon Coleman (6-5, 195, JR); Charles Carmouche (6-4, 187, SR); Shane Hammink (6-7, 210, FR)
Probable Tennessee Starters
F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 270, SO, (12.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg, .548 FG%)
G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 188, SO, (7.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 503 FG%)
G-Armani Moore, 6-5, 205, FR, (2.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg)
G-Jordan McRae, 6-5, 178, JR, (13.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, .328 3PT%)
G-Trae Golden, 6-2, 205, JR, (11.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.0 apg)
Key Reserves: Skylar McBee (6-3, 195, SR); Kenny Hall (6-9, 230, SR); Yemi Makanjuola (6-9, 250, SO); Derek Reese (6-7, 218, FR); Quinton Chievous (6-5, 200, FR)
The opening tip
The pattern of this season is beginning to look a little familiar for Tennessee fans. No, it’s not an exact repeat of UT’s 2011-12 campaign, but there are clearly some parallels.
The Vols looked to be heading nowhere last season until a late-season surge took them from afterthoughts to NCAA Tournament contenders thanks to winning eight of their final nine contests.
Similarly, this year’s team looked sunk in January with an 11-10 record. Could a repeat of last year’s surge be on the way, though? There are certainly signs after three straight wins, including an 88-58 record-breaking beat down of Kentucky on Saturday.
But coach Cuonzo Martin and the Vols aren’t thinking about reeling off eight or nine in a row at this point. They’re just focused on beating LSU when the over-achieving Tigers comes to Knoxville on Tuesday night.
Picked 11th in the SEC, LSU, led by first-year coach Johnny Jones has surprised some teams this year on its way to a 15-8 mark. The Tigers feature a pair of ultra-quick guards in Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer who compliment top big man Johnny O’Bryant III. O’Bryant, a 6-9, 256-pound forward, will be one of Jarnell Stokes’ toughest matchups this season from a physical standpoint.
Stokes, who fell just one point and one rebound away from his seventh-straight double-double on Saturday, has his way with most SEC post played, but the combination of the strength of O’Bryant and the height (7-3) of center Andrew Del Piero will be one of his toughest tests this year.
Though the offense flows through Stokes, some of the pressure has been relieved off of his with the re-emergence of junior point guard Trae Golden. In just his second game back in the starting lineup, Golden torched the Wildcats for 24 points and eight assists.
When he pushes the ball and gets in the lane consistently, the Vols are generally at their best. He makes others, such as shooting guard Jordan McRae and swingman Josh Richardson, that much better.
Martin on keeping the team grounded despite recent improvements: “It’s not like we’re having cake and ice cream after the game.”
Tennessee is up from No. 76 to No. 69 in the latest NCAA-released RPI rankings on Monday. The Vols’ best wins were against Wichita State (33), Kentucky (44), UMass (55) and Alabama (59). . A win over LSU would extend UT’s winning streak to four, matching the previous long streak of the season. . Golden is shooting .500 from the field and averaging 17.3 points per game in his last three contests. . Martin said he plans on keeping the same starting lineup of Stokes, McRae, Golden, Richardson and Armani Moore. Center Kenny Hall is expected to come off the bench again. . Tennessee has won four straight against LSU. . UT is currently tied with Florida and Alabama for the longest active winning streak (3) in the SEC. . Tennessee and LSU are currently tied with Georgia for seventh in the SEC. . Martin and Jones have never faced each other before.
Daniel Lewis covers University of Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga