The LSU Tigers travel to Rocky Top Wednesday night with hopes of bouncing back from two hard-to-swallow losses at the hands of SEC foes Kentucky and Ole Miss.
Although an upset over the inconsistent Volunteers would not yield a signature win as it would have in the recent past, the Tigers look to stay above .500 in conference play and mount some momentum going into the heart of the SEC season.
When applying the poor-man's version of the transitive property to this match-up, LSU is capable of running with this UT team, as it knocked off an Arkansas team that gave the Vols a migraine in the SEC-opener.
The Tigers are facing a much better, much more experienced Vols team on paper; however, with UT coach Bruce Pearl still under SEC Commissioner Mike Slive's imposed suspension, Tigers coach Trent Johnson and his young team hope to exploit the inconsistency of the Vols.
Having coached at Nevada, Stanford and now LSU, Johnson is a journeyman coach of sorts. While he has relocated three times in his 11 years, this does not diminish his capabilities as the lead man — he has been named conference coach of the year with each of his three teams.
Needless to say, the Tigers will rally around their coach Wednesday night and will look to him for success.
This reliance is not foreign to the players, and Johnson spoke to that on Monday.
"If I have to be a psychiatrist after how we've played and competed in the last two games, they don't care," Johnson said. "I fully expect us to compete very, very hard on Wednesday.
"If we make a couple of shots, we'll have our chances, but Tennessee is without question a very good basketball team, probably as talented a team in this league. You don't beat Villanova and Pittsburgh and Georgia on the road without being very talented and skilled. We need to make sure we get off the deck and compete at a high level."
Unfortunately for the Tigers, talented freshman guard and leading scorer Ralston Turner, who had a handful of SEC offers, as well as an offer from Notre Dame, is out with a stress reaction in his foot until later in the week.
LSU will need support from highly touted freshman forward Matt Derenbecker. The former four-star recruit has been inconsistent but has had strong outings in LSU's two conference wins against Auburn and Arkansas (15 points and eight rebounds, and 12 points and six rebounds, respectively.)
Derenbecker seems to have embraced an opportunity to shine offensively with Turner's injury over the past four games. He put up a team-high 14 points in the blowout loss at home against Ole Miss. He valued effort and hustle over sheer talent after the loss and in preparation for Wednesday night's game against the Vols.
"The last two games have been embarrassing," said Derenbecker. "We've been dominated in all aspects of the game ... We're not talented enough to come into league play and just try to rely on our talent and not rely on hustle and out-rebound like we did the first two (SEC) games."
Despite promising talent from this young LSU team, both the Tigers and the Vols are in need of a decisive victory Wednesday. The Vols will point to continued strong play, both offensively and defensively, from senior guard Melvin Goins as the Tigers lack depth at the guard position. Not only will home-court advantage play a factor in the outcome, but Tennessee is also bigger, faster and more experienced.