Let’s get to know LSU a little bit. The Tigers finished 3rd in the SEC standings due to their frontcourt. Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey form a formidable duo underneath the basket. They are the backbone of this team, combining for over 30 points and 18 rebounds per game. They are true beasts underneath the basket. They are the big reason that LSU is a top-10 rebounding team in the country, and take advantage on the interior against lesser opponents. For NC State, it is quite the opposite. The backcourt trio of Trevor Lacey, Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber, and Ralston Turner forms one of the most talented backcourts in the nation. These three together average over 40 points per game, and at the end of the season, when NC State played its best, it was these three who constantly stepped up. When these three guards are hitting shots, it opens the offense and creates opportunities for everyone else.
For NC State to advance in the tournament, they need to do two things. First, they have to get Barber, Lacey, and Turner going – especially Turner. When Turner, a transfer to Raleigh from LSU, is on, NC State is extremely dangerous. When these three are playing well, the offense clicks perfectly and everything flows smoothly. The main key to the game for NC State, however, will be their ability to match the production of Mickey and Martin for the Tigers. This will fall on the shoulders of the Wolfpack’s four big men: Abdul-Malik Abu, Lennard Freeman, Beejay Anya, and Kyle Washington. Abu and Freeman are regular starters and are the team’s leading rebounders. They need to crash the boards, offensively and defensively, and hold LSU from getting many second-chance opportunities. Beejay Anya needs to do what he does best, and clog up the paint. He has the innate ability to deny anyone from getting an easy shot inside, and as long as he stays out of foul trouble, he can be a best. Anya will also need to grab rebounds. He has a huge body, and needs to use it to his advantage. The key to the game for NC State will be Beejay Anya and Lennard Freeman working together inside. Anya will come off the bench, but has to provide valuable minutes for his team. Freeman is a great rebounder, and needs to show it. These guys need to at least equal the production of LSU’s forwards. We’ve seen NC State’s frontcourt step up against Louisville, Duke, UNC, and other teams, and if it plays as it did against them, NC State should come out well – assuming the three guards for State are sharp.
Prediction time: Look for LSU to get the ball inside early and often, and for the Wolfpack to let their backcourt handle a majority of the offensive load. If the backcourt for the Pack is on, it will be hard to LSU to beat them. Likewise, if LSU’s frontcourt is playing at its full strength, it will be difficult for State to win. If State’s big men get into early foul trouble, it could spell doom for Mark Gottfried’s team. Beejay Anya must step up and lock down the paint, along with the help of Lennard Freeman. I think that both teams will come out ready to play, and this game will be very competitive throughout both halves. In the end, I predict NC State comes out on top, and will earn a date with Villanova in the Round of 32. NC State 76, LSU 73.