Men's basketball vs. Florida

LSU men’s basketball head coach Matt McMahon watches the action from the side of the court on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, during LSU’s 56-67 loss against Florida in the Peter Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La.

Despite starting conference play with the same level of success, LSU and Auburn now sit in two very different positions in the SEC race just three weeks later.

While the former followed up its first SEC loss with three more disappointing ones, the War Eagles bounced back, managing to maintain a position in the AP Poll as a result. 

In No. 16 Auburn’s lone conference loss to Georgia, it shot poorly from everywhere on the court including the free throw line while allowing its opponent to shoot over 45% from the field. But unlike LSU, who has struggled to adjust after its loss to Kentucky, Auburn improved in every shooting category, shooting over 43% in its last three games and improving immensely from two-point range and the line. 

Still, LSU has a few things going for them that make this matchup a little less daunting.  

For one, they will have one of their starters back close to 100%, according to Matt McMahon. Cam Hayes missed the Florida game and was limited in their most recent outing against Alabama due to a lower leg injury. Having him back should provide LSU with boosts on both sides of the ball. 

“Definitely look forward to having him back with us,” McMahon said on the guard. “I think it’s had a big impact in practice [having him back] and I look forward to him playing a huge role for us [tonight].” 

They’re also playing in Baton Rouge and Auburn has notably struggled on the road, dropping two of its four games away from its home stadium. On the other hand, all but one of LSU’s last four losses have occurred at their opponents’ home stadium and prior to that home loss to Florida, it hadn’t dropped a game at the PMAC. 

And lastly, Auburn’s last three wins have come against three teams that sit at the bottom of the conference in Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, three opponents with a combined conference record of 3-14. Its best win of the season arguably came against Florida, which makes this one of the less intimidating ranked teams in the conference. 

However, none of those factors discount the fact that the Tigers have a lot to improve upon if they want to start winning in SEC play. The three biggest factors McMahon touched on in his latest presser were offensive execution, defensive rebounding and points off turnovers.  

While those flaws have been consistently displayed throughout the last four games, they were most evident in their most recent matchup against the Crimson Tide.

Alabama’s breakaway run in the first half began with LSU continuously allowing the Tide to pile on second chance points, the Tiger offense produced 22 points in the first half and Alabama converted 11 of their turnovers into 19 points. McMahon brought up the Arkansas game when discussing that last statistic, a game in which LSU allowed just four points off 10 turnovers. 

“Good formula for us,” McMahon said referring to that game. “But when you’re playing a team that can contend for a national title, they make you pay for those mistakes, and I thought our transition defense was really susceptible off those turnovers.” 

Auburn forces over 14 turnovers and grabs nearly 11 offensive rebounds per game, along with being a top-25 team in defensive efficiency. If LSU’s preparation since the Alabama loss and Hayes’ return to full strength don’t diminish the aforementioned flaws, the War Eagles are going to have an easy time in this one. 

Above all else, McMahon believes his players need to maintain their level of effort and commitment towards their teammates. He mentioned that as one of the contributing factors in why the game against Alabama got so out of hand, with its three-point onslaught being as demoralizing as it was. 

“It has to be the foundation as we move forward, is your commitment to your teammates,” McMahon said. “We’ve got to be a connected group. How hard we play, the energy we play with, playing with relentless effort has got to be the foundation and who we are. Then you start getting to the areas of improved execution and so forth.” 

LSU is in a rough spot, facing a ranked opponent following four straight losses. But one key win here could do wonders for a team striving to regain its momentum.

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