While everyone has their eye on the weekend, No. 13 LSU is doing everything in its power to avoid thinking about its sold-out showdown with No. 5 Tennessee on Saturday.
That’s because the Tigers (21-4, 11-1 Southeastern Conference Play), who share a lead in the conference standings with the Volunteers, first have to take care of one of the SEC’s most talented defensive teams in Florida.
The Gators (14-11, 6-6), despite their mediocre record, have the 10th most-efficient defense in the nation, according KenPom’s metrics.
They force turnovers on one out of nearly every four defensive possessions while simultaneously slowing the game down at an astounding rate, making it difficult for some teams to find enough rhythm on offense to get to even 60 points.
They do this by coming out in a 1-2-2 full-court press that slows the ball coming up the floor. Florida rarely traps out of the press before the ball reaches halfcourt. It just adds some pressure to the ball handler and prevents him from getting comfortable.
“It takes a little time to prepare for,” Wade said of the press. “You’ve got to change up what you do. They try to slow the game down and keep the game at their pace. We need to do a good job attacking it. It’s something that’s a little bit unique, a little bit different.”
That’s a heavy contrast to LSU, which has the country’s No. 12 offense according to KenPom thanks to a skilled roster that likes to play fast and hard.
Wade said the Tigers will have to limit turnovers against the Gators as he recognizes they will get limited possessions.
“We can’t give Florida easy points, obviously,” Wade said. “They try to grind it out in the half court, so we certainly don’t want to give them 6-8-10 free points in transition. They’re very good a converting live ball turnovers. Like I said, they turn you over on 24-percent of your possessions. One out of every four possessions, just about, they’re turning you over. They convert those at a higher rate than the national average.
“We did a great job of valuing the ball when we had eight turnovers (against Kentucky). It would be nice if we could only have eight turnovers Wednesday.”
LSU often likes to play inside out with its large starting lineup featuring 6-foot-10 Naz Reid and 6-foot-11 Kavell Bigby-Williams.
Those two will give LSU a significant size advantage, but Florida does a good job of packing in its defense to prevent easy buckets in the paint where Naz Reid has a ton of weapons and Bigby-Williams has a penchant to clean up the glass.
“We just have to keep our composure and poise,” Reid said. “I’ve been double-teamed a lot. I’m pretty sure someone’s going to cut to the basket or, it’s obviously a double so someone is open. I just have to keep my poise and composure, and (Bigby-Williams, Emmitt Williams and Darius Days) need to do the same thing.”
As is human nature, the Tigers have to make a concerted effort to avoid looking past Florida and to Tennessee in what is as archetypal a trap game as any on LSU’s schedule.
After LSU’s win against Georgia, the Tigers could be found watching Kentucky’s 86-69 victory against Tennessee that launched LSU into a tie for first place in the league.
On Monday it was announced the Tigers had moved up to No. 13 in the AP Top 25 poll, it’s highest ranking in nearly a decade.
There are a multitude of distractions that could prevent LSU from getting prepared for this showdown against the Gators, but this is nothing new for Wade who probably feels like he’s been preparing for trap games all season at this point.
“We just talk about doing everything we need to do today. We don’t even talk about it game-wise. We just talk about today. Winning today, making sure we do what we need to do today, making sure we have championship traits, championship habits every day and focus in on that. If you can win every minute, every hour and then every day, then you’ll give yourself a chance to win when it comes to game day. We’ve tried to really break it down and focus on all the small stuff.”
WHO: No. 13 LSU (21-4, 11-1) vs. Florida (14-11, 6-6)
WHEN: Wednesday, 6 p.m.
WHERE: The Pete Maravich Assembly Center
BROADCAST: ESPN2, 98.1 FM
NET RANKINGS: No. 14 LSU, No. 33 Florida
KENPOM PREDICTION: 71-66 LSU