Arkansas (18-13) vs. L-S-U (17-13)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 8, 1:00 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: New Orleans Arena (18,500) -- New Orleans, Louisiana. Television: SEC Network. Home Record: Arkansas 17-4, LSU 11-4. Away Record: Arkansas 1-9, LSU 4-8. Neutral Record: Arkansas 0-0, LSU 2-1. Conference Record: Arkansas 6-10, LSU 7-9. Series Record: Arkansas leads, 31-23.
GAME NOTES: The LSU Tigers and Arkansas Razorbacks are set to do battle on Thursday afternoon as the first round of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament gets underway at New Orleans Arena.
LSU earned the eighth seed for this year's tourney after finishing 7-9 in conference, ending the regular season on a three-game losing streak. The Tigers have just one SEC tournament title to their credit, winning back in 1980, and own a 43-51 all-time record in this annual event. LSU lost to Vanderbilt in the first round of last year's tournament, its second consecutive opening-round exit in as many years. The Tigers' last SEC tournament win came back in 2009 with a quarterfinal-round triumph over Kentucky.
Arkansas claimed the No. 9 seed with a 6-10 league mark, also backing into the postseason with a pair of setbacks to close its schedule -- part of a longer stretch of five losses in six games. The Razorbacks can also count just a single conference tournament championship in their history, taking home the SEC hardware in 2000, and they sport a 20-19 record all-time in this event. Arkansas too has found it tough sledding in postseason play as of late, suffering three consecutive first-round ousters in as many years. The Hogs were bounced by Tennessee in last year's tourney and last posted a win in the event back in 2008 -- a semifinal victory against the Volunteers. Arkansas eventually lost in the championship game to Georgia.
The winner of this matchup has the unenviable task of facing top-ranked Kentucky in the quarterfinals on Friday.
The Tigers and Razorbacks have met three times previously in this event with the latter owning a 2-1 edge in the series. This will be their first encounter in postseason play since 2002-03. The teams split the regular-season series for the third straight year, with each scoring a victory on its home floor. Arkansas leads the all-time series with LSU by a 31-23 margin, with the programs splitting 10 neutral-site matchups.
The Tigers have a good makeup in striking an effective balance between offense and defense. The Tigers put up 65.3 ppg but on only 40.7 percent shooting, while opponents average 63.6 ppg on a 41.6 shooting percentage. Junior Justin Hamilton leads the team in both scoring at 13.0 ppg and rebounding with 7.2 per contest. Sophomore Andre Stringer slots in next at 10.1 ppg, while freshman Anthony Hickey provides 9.2 ppg and a team-leading 3.7 apg. Ralston Turner chips in with 8.9 ppg, and is tied with Hickey for the team-lead in three-pointers with 43 on 35.5 percent efficiency. Hickey hits 33.1 percent of his three-point tries, while Stringer has 38 threes but on a lowly .304 shooting percentage. The Tigers manage a slim edge on the boards (+0.9), with freshman Johnny O'Bryant III kicking in 6.7 rpg and senior Storm Warren another 5.1 rpg. Both O'Bryant and Warren add further depth with 8.3 and 8.1 ppg, respectively.
The Razorbacks have a pair of inexperienced players leading the team from the backcourt in freshman B.J. Young and sophomore Mardracus Wade. Young leads the team in scoring with 15.3 ppg and field goal percentage (.506). Wade follows with 10.8 ppg and is the club's top three-point threat with 67 treys on a crisp 47.2 percent shooting effort. Fellow sophomore Rickey Scott adds 9.4 ppg and 3.4 rebounds to the mix, while Julysses Nobles paces the club with 3.2 apg and chips in with 8.6 ppg. Overall, Arkansas stands as one of the better offensive teams in the SEC with an average of 72.4 ppg, good for fourth in the league. The defense could use some work though, surrendering a league-high 69.7 ppg, but on only 43.2 percent shooting. The Razorbacks knock down 43.7 percent of their field goal attempts, and have the SEC's worst rebounding margin at minus-3.5.
LSU struggled coming down the stretch but still has the advantage over Arkansas with its depth and experience. The Razorbacks had just one win away from home this season and still have some growing to do before making a run in the SEC Tournament.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: LSU 68, Arkansas 63
03/08 10:30:39 ET