NEW ORLEANS, La. -- From here on out, LSU is playing for its postseason potential.
Just two short weeks ago, the Tigers (17-13, 7-9) were on a four-game winning streak and had reasonable hopes of an NIT berth, and perhaps an outside shot at the NCAA tournament. If LSU can't get past Arkansas (18-13, 6-10) on Thursday afternoon in the opening game of the SEC tournament, all those hopes are likely for nothing.
The fact that the winner's matchup Friday will be against No. 1 Kentucky isn't exactly encouraging, but the Tigers must first focus on getting to that point.
Control the paint: Arkansas has relied on a guard-heavy, undersized lineup for most of the season. The Razorbacks typically employ three guards on the floor, and did so in both meetings against LSU. The Hogs' two starting forwards, Michael Sanchez and Marvell Waithe, only average 18 and 16 minutes, respectively, and neither averages more than five points per game.
None of Arkansas' post players can measure up to LSU center Justin Hamilton, physically or figuratively. The Razorbacks don't feature a forward who has Hamilton's seven-foot size, or his double-digit scoring average. Freshman forward Johnny O'Bryant III missed the teams' first meeting with a broken bone in his hand. When he came back for the second game, he posted eight points and 11 boards. Coupled with O'Bryant's production, Hamilton should be able to impose himself in the paint. The junior averaged 16.5 points and 9.5 boards in the two regular season meetings, and he needs to find success again.
Rebound for Turner: LSU coach Trent Johnson benched Ralston Turner for the first time in his two-year career last weekend against Auburn. The sophomore responded by leading the team with 14 points off the bench on 5-of-11 shooting, a far cry better than his season-long performance.
LSU still lost by 15 to Auburn, but a resurgence from Turner could be the difference between the team advancing or calling it a season. Turner led the team in scoring as a freshman, but has taken a backseat to Hamilton in 2012. One of the Tigers' biggest problems this season has been a lack of reliable shooting to complement Hamilton, O'Bryant and Storm Warren. If that trio can rely on Turner in the clutch, it could be the difference.
Johnson announced Wednesday that Turner would return to the starting lineup against Arkansas, so he will get his chance.
Find the basket: Making shots isn't exactly a novel strategy in basketball, but the Tigers' shooting woes have been laughable at times this season.
LSU shot an awful 34.8 as a team during the Tigers' 69-60 to the Razorbacks on Jan. 14. A few weeks later LSU prevailed, 71-65, in the rematch, largely because that percentage improved to 41.4.
There's more to it than just hitting shots, too. In the loss, the Tigers took 69 shots and only connected on 24. In the win, that number shrank to 58. LSU had a decided advantage in the post, and the Tigers are going against the league's worst scoring defense. They need to slow the game down and find good shots. If LSU's guards are chunking up shots indiscriminately, things aren't going to go well. Send the ball down low and grind out a win without taking too many shots. Those should be Johnson's orders.