Arkansas at LSU preview

The Arkansas players trudged into the PMAC about 15 minutes about clad in their cardinal shorts, and we’ve got jambalaya as a pregame meal before this SEC tilt.

LSU (16-9, 7-7 SEC) could use this victory to make a nice push into the mix for seventh place in the standings against Arkansas (17-10, 8-6), and firmly onto the NIT bubble.

The Razorbacks, who sit at No. 77 in the RPI, are trying to stay on the edge of the NCAA tournament bubble. Yet, they’ve struggled mightily away from Bud Walton Arena this season, going 1-7 in true road games.

The Set-Up

LSU is coming off a triple-overtime victory against Alabama on Saturday, with the players getting a day off Sunday and a light workout Monday with scout work. Charles Carmouche and Johnny O’Bryant each saw 50-plus minutes of action, while Anthony Hickey logged 42 for the Tigers.

Arkansas loves to push the pace and traps aggressively, which makes it interesting to see how LSU responds. Arkansas leads the SEC by forcing turnovers on 25.2 percent of its defensive possessions, and is No. 3 in the conference for defensive efficiency. On the perimeter, sophomore guard B.J. Young is averaging 15.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. UA leans on his presence late in games, with the St. Louis native making critical shots in victories against Georgia, Missouri and Auburn at Bud Walton Arena. Inside, Marshawn Powell is post 14.8 points per game and grabbing 5.2 rebounds, looking fully recovered from a knee-injury that sidelined him last season.

The Background

Under the new scheduling format, this is the lone meeting between the Tigers and Razorbacks this season. Last season, LSU won the rubber match in the first round of the SEC tournament with a 70-54 victory in New Orleans.

This will be the first time since UA joined the league in 1992 that the teams will not play twice. The Razorbacks lead the series 31-24 overall.

The Keys

Young vs. Hickey: LSU point guard Anthony Hickey still leads the SEC with 3.3 steals per game. B.J. Young averages 3.3 turnovers per game for Arkansas. Considering 28.2 possessions flow through the Arkansas guard, his ability to control the flow against the disruptive and instinctive Hickey will encapsulate which team is able to handle the pressure applied by their foe.

Powell’s fouls: The Hogs forward averages 3.54 fouls per game, fouling out four times this season. It’s been a particularly acute issue the past three weeks, where he’s fouled out once and amassed four fouls three times. Facing Johnny O’Bryant, who enters with a league-leading 12 double-doubles, looms as a risk for Powell and UA’s interior game. Sophomore forward Hunter Mickelson sees 17.7 minutes per game and averages 4.9 points, but that’s about it off the bench. In the starting line-up, junior Coty Clarke averages 7.3 points for UA. But there’s little doubt having Powell on the floor will alleviate scoring pressure on Young. If he’s on the bench, O’Bryant could run amok for LSU.

The 3-Ball: Arkansas might be able to force turnovers, but they struggle defending the 3-point arc, allowing SEC foes to knock 35.7 percent of their attempts per game. Over the past three games, LSU is shooting 43.3 percent behind the arc, or 26 of 60, and getting solid contributions from Charles Carmouche in that spot. The senior from New Orleans is 9 of 15 over that span and is averaging 13.7 points, too.

The Big Stat

26.5: That’s the difference in scoring margin for Arkansas on home versus on the road. So far, Arkansas is losing by 13.5 points away from Fayetteville, and whether the Hogs admit it, they’ve faced issues overcoming a mental block on finding success in opposing gyms. If that holds tonight, LSU might not have to worry about playing three overtimes tonight.

The Prediction

LSU 76, Arkansas 74