If LSU’s basketball coach Will Wade could have had his team start Southeastern Conference play a few days after hammering Sam Houston State back on Dec. 14, he’d have more of a feel of how the Tigers would play in their SEC opener.
But when LSU (5-1) takes the court Tuesday at 6 p.m. vs. Texas A&M (5-1) in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center to begin a tentative 18-game league schedule, the Tigers will have played just one game in the last two weeks.
COVID-19 protocols and tracing in the LSU camp cancelled three home games and another opponent (Texas Southern) scheduled as an opponent also cancelled because of COVID problems on its end.
LSU managed to hastily schedule Nicholls State last Saturday. The Tigers, playing without junior starting point guard Javonte Smart, struggled in an 86-80 over the Colonels who hadn’t played since Dec. 1.
“We had good rhythm and chemistry,”: Wade said of his team the way it was played before the COVID forced layoff. “Our practices had a great pace to them. We were practicing well, our team was playing better. We had some continuity with our lineup. We had continuity with our practices.
“I thought we were nudging forward and doing a good job. But that’s the way the season is going to go. It’s going to be up and down and all over the place. We’ve got to make the best of it and get back in rhythm soon.”
The Tigers, a preseason pick to finish third in the SEC behind Tennessee (currently 6-0, No. 7 nationally) and Kentucky (a shocking 1-6 with six consecutive losses), have shown a penchant early for scoring.
LSU is second in the SEC and 16th nationally averaging 88.5 points. Four Tigers’ starters, led by true freshman guard Cam Thomas’ 22.8 points per game (No. 2 in the SEC, No. 10 nationally), are averaging double figures.
But against an easy schedule – “It’s not like we played Murderer’s Row,” Wade said – LSU has had defense and rebounding problems. The Tigers are allowing 68.3 points per game, tied for 141st nationally. LSU is 76th in rebound margin (39 to 32.7).
A&M is led by Emanuel Miller, a 6-7 sophomore forward, averaging 18 points and 9.4 rebounds a game. He has recorded three double doubles with at least 20 points and he’s the first Aggie to score in double figures in each of his first five games to start a season since Danuel House and Tyler Daniel in 2015-16.
Senior Quenton Jackson averages 11.7 points and senior Savion Flagg is at 10.points and 6.8 rebounds. Flagg missed the Wofford game.
As of Monday, Wade said all his players were healthy and ready to play. He was also crossing his fingers.
“It’ll probably be survival of the fittest, some of it’s going to be luck,” Wade said. “When the COVID and the contact tracing hits your team, can you survive? I do think whoever can get in rhythm and have chemistry with practice, that team will certainly have an advantage.”
The game will be broadcast on the LSU Sports Radio Network. Eagle 98.1 FM, part of Guaranty Media., is the flagship station in Baton Rouge. The network telecast will be on the SEC Network.