LSU will get its first taste of action outside the PMAC this week as it celebrates Thanksgiving at Disney World for the Advocare Invitational tournament in Orlando, Fla.
The 8-team field is loaded with talent on both sides of the bracket, including the defending national champion Villonova Wildcats (though that may not be as prestigious a get as first though. More on that later).
The Tigers will kick their tournament off Thursday night as they take on Charleston at 6 p.m.
Today, we’re going to take a look at the entire field of 8 teams and break down who they have, what they bring to the table and how they factor into LSU’s chances of coming out of this weekend with a successful outcome.
NO. 19 LSU (4-0)
Let’s start with what we know best.
The Tigers have won four games, all from the comforts afforded by the PMAC, which has reeled in some nice crowds so far this season.
Head coach Will Wade has pointed to this tournament as a real test for LSU.
“We have played all of the games at home so far, so it will be a bigger challenge as we move into a neutral environment,” Wade said “We have a lot of work to do this week to get ready and improve in some areas we need to address and have not had time to address going into the game.”
Strengths: The Tigers have had a lot of success offensively with a backcourt loaded with talent like Tremont Waters, Ja’vonte Smart and Skylar Mays paired with a post with more depth than it’s seen in years.
Naz Reid and Emmitt Williams started in the post for the first three games of the season with rim defender Kavell-Bigby Williams and sharpshooter Darius Days coming in off the bench.
Reid is a bit questionable after playing just nine minutes against Louisiana Tech in which he didn’t look like himself due to an ankle injury.
Wade said Reid looks better but didn’t give much more information than that. We’ll have to wait and see what role he plays Thursday night.
Weaknesses: The Tigers have struggled getting back on defense in transition and, as a result, struggled on perimeter defense.
Louisiana Tech is the first team that hasn’t had a player hit six 3-pointers against the Tigers, but that didn’t keep the Bulldogs from effectively using the arc as a primary weapons shooting 11 of 28 as a team.
The Bulldogs were also the first team to out-rebound the Tigers, pulling down 42 to LSU’s 38.
Wade said LSU will have to start putting bodies on opponents much more effectively moving forward or it won’t take long before poor rebounding costs the Tigers.
The Cougars won three straight before losing 70-58 in its Advocare Invitation non-bracketed game against Oklahoma State on Sunday.
The last time LSU played Charleston came in 2015 when the Ben Simmons-led Tigers got dominated by the Cougars in a 70-58 loss after getting doubled up in scoring in the first half.
The Tigers want a different outcome to start off this tournament.
“The hardest game to win is always the first game and whatever tournament setting you are in, the hardest game to win is always the first,” Wade said. “… it is going to take everything we have to beat Charleston this week. We are putting all our time these next three days into beating Charleston.”
Strengths: Charleston will try to slow LSU down with an experienced roster with guys both around the perimeter and in the post that can score effectively and play good defense.
Their offense runs through Grant Riller who averages 19 points and 3.8 assists per game. He attacks from the perimeter while forward Jarrell Brantley attacks down low.
Brantley is averaging 18.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game through four games this season.
Weaknesses: The problem with trying to play the half-court for the Cougars is their lack of size.
Moving the ball inside is going to be an issue when Reid, Bigby-Williams and even Williams are in the game.
Charleston will also have to limit turnovers in order to keep the tempo its wants to play. The Cougars turn the ball over at a rate of 10.5 times per game, but they have an assist-to-turnover ration of 0.9.
This plays into LSU’s favor with a pickpocket like Waters on its roster.
NO. 14 FLORIDA STATE (3-0)
Florida State has looked like a team that’s earned its early-season ranking with three convincing wins against Florida (81-60), Tulane (80-69) and Canisius (93-61).
If the Seminoles and Tigers either both win or both lose, this will provide LSU with its biggest test of the season so far.
Strengths: Swing guard Terrance Mann is, well, a man. The 6-foot-7 senior is averaging 14 points and 8 rebounds per game, putting him as the leader in both of those statistical categories through three games. Perhaps more impressively he’s only committed a single person foul in the process.
Shooting at a .516 clip from the field and 3 of 4 from the 3-point line, Mann provides a problem for anyone who wants to try to guard him.
The Seminoles represent another team that may try to slow LSU down, and they have more pieces to do so than Charleston will. Florida State can force turnovers and it likes to push the pace when it does.
The Seminoles would be the most complete team the Tigers have faced this season.
Weaknesses: FSU hasn’t shown too many weaknesses thus far. Its big, athletic and experienced, making them a tough beat for virtually anyone in the country.
The Seminoles’ biggest problem so far has been turnovers, as they commit 15 per game. They’re also struggling a bit at the free-throw line, shooting 72.7 percent from the stripe.
If the Tigers win, they likely won’t have to worry about the Blazers, but Villanova just lost to Furman so let’s not count it out.
UAB already has a win against a Louisiana team as it defeated the Southland Conference’s New Orleans.
The Blazers have been remarkably consistent on offense, scoring 75 points in each of their first two games then 77 in their third game against West Alabama.
Strengths: Guard Zack Bryant serves as UAB’s current leading scorer with 15 points per game.
Despite being a relatively small team, the Blazers have averaged 39.3 rebounds per game with an average margin of +9.6.
Weaknesses: The Blazers are in a bit of a rebuilding year with just one senior on the roster and missing many key players from last season.
Most of UAB’s starters from last season graduated, making the current squad a bit of a project for head coach Robert Ehsan.
The defending national champions fell off a cliff last week with a blowout 73-46 loss to Michigan in a rematch of last season’s title game followed by a shocking overtime loss to Furman on Saturday.
The Wildcats will be looking to get their season back on track after falling from the No. 8 team in the country to completely unranked after the back-to-back losses.
Strengths: Despite the recent struggles, we know the Wildcats are well-coached. Jay Wright has one of the best schemes in the country (admittedly moreso when he has pieces that fit into that scheme), and fans of the Wildcats shouldn’t be too concerned about the future of the program over a couple losses.
Phil Booth has also lived up to his hype, averaging 17.3 points and shooting 40 percent from the field in the Wildcats’ first four games.
Weaknesses: Wright’s scheme relies on minimal mistakes, which comes from experience, and exceptional 3-point shooting, which the Wildcats haven’t had this season.
Villanova plays fast and they shoot often. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they are shooting just 32 percent from the 3-point line and giving up a lot of transition points as a result. This team will probably figure things out before the season ends, but it’s unlikely that will happen as soon as this week in Orlando.
The only loss on Memphis’ record this season came in the PMAC against LSU.
Memphis represents the only team in the tournament LSU has played so far in this young season, and they would likely only face each other in the finals or some other tournament-ending consolation game.
The Penny Hardaway-coached squad can play fast and strong, and it didn’t make things easy on LSU in the first meeting between the two teams.
Memphis takes on Oklahoma State in round one at 3:30 p.m.
Strengths: Guard Tyler Ellis went off on LSU, shooting 6 for 13 from the 3-point line against the Tigers.
Memphis was able to run the ball well and score in transition.
Memphis also pressured LSU defensively and pushed successfully on the other end, forcing 14 LSU turnovers and tallying 14 more points as a result.
Weaknesses: Memphis lacks the size of LSU, and it showed in the stat sheet.
LSU out-rebounded Memphis 37-32 and scored 48 points in the paint against the visiting Tigers.
They fast and loose, much to their detriment, turning the ball over 14 times against LSU. They’re a young team with a brand new coach in Hardaway, so expect Memphis to get better with every game it plays.
OKLAHOMA STATE (2-1)
It hasn’t been a great start to the season for the Pokes, who opened the season up with a 66-64 loss to Charlotte.
The Cowboys bounced back, however, with a 22-point win against Texas-San Antonio and a 70-58 victory against Charleston.
With a pick ‘em game against Memphis and Villanova struggling, Oklahoma State could very well find themselves in the finals of this tournament.
Strengths: OSU’s starting five has been remarkably consistent this season, with four of them averaging more than 10 points per game. Cameron McGriff leads the way with 15 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as well as a .462 clip from the 3-point line.
The Cowboys are young and relatively unexperienced, but their core starting five provides a solid core to build around. They move the ball well and average nearly 15 assists per game as a team.
Weaknesses: OSU doesn’t have much depth at any position, really. The Cowboys’ bench is lacking due to a high volume of athletes leaving the program both for graduation and other less flattering reasons.
The Cowboys also struggle rebounding the basketball with just 36 per game.
They also turn the ball over 15 times per game with opponents averaging 18 points off turnover so far this season.
Yeah, me neither.
The Griffins (great nickname) will open their tournament against defending national champion Villanova, and it probably won’t be the Wildcats’ third consecutive loss.
After a bit of research, it can be found that Canisius is, in fact, a Division I program that joined the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference in 1989.
The Griffins’ sole win came against Bucknell in its season opener. They then lost to Albany and Florida State.
Strengths: The guy to watch out for is Takal Molson, who averages 21.3 points and 5.3 rebounds through three games.
Molson has quickly emerged as one of the MAAC’s most impressive players this season, and a big showing against teams like Florida State and UAB can only help that cause.
Weaknesses: The Griffins just aren’t the caliber team the rest of these programs in the tournament are. They’re the resident team to get beat up, fed to the defending national champs in their opening game to give them a better chance of reaching the finals.
Overall, this is kind of an underrated, Thanksgiving-week tournament with some marquee names and interesting matchups.
How LSU performs against this field will tell us a lot about this LSU team and what it needs to work on ahead of SEC play.