LSU Basketball’s January in Review: What’s Wrong, What’s Next?
LSU men's basketball team entered the month of January with a 12-1 record with their only loss coming on the road to the current top-ranked team in the AP poll: the Auburn Tigers.
Their eight games in January were primed to be a make-or-break stretch. They had an excellent record, but they were only ranked 21st in the country at the start of the month with huge games against some of the SEC's top teams coming up. They went 4-4 in those games, and fell to 16-5 on the season with a 4-4 record in the SEC. So, what happened?
The Tigers started off well with massive wins at home over top 25 opponents Kentucky and Tennessee, vaulting them to the 12 spot in the AP poll with a 14-1 record.
However, starting point guard Xavier Pinson suffered a knee injury in the win against Tennessee and missed the next five games before returning for the final game of the month in the Big 12/SEC Challenge against TCU. Without their assist leader, LSU's offense struggled at times in January.
In those five games, the Tigers took down Florida on the road, which has not been a guarantee in head coach Will Wade's five-year tenure with the team. Before that game, Wade's record against the Gators was 2-5. However, they pulled off the road victory thanks to a 20-point performance by forward Darius Days.
A brutal loss to Arkansas at home started a downward spiral. In this game against the Razorbacks, LSU held a 56-48 lead with nine minutes remaining. They went on to lose 65-58 to earn their second SEC loss. As mentioned earlier, without Pinson, LSU's offense struggled in the second half. They provided no answer to a massive 17-2 run in the last nine minutes that sealed the win for Arkansas.
Their next game was a road trip to Alabama to face a Crimson Tide team that has played both up and down to their competition this year. Wade and Alabama head coach Nate Oats may become a great rivalry in the SEC, but Oats got the better of Wade for the fourth straight time when Alabama beat LSU 70-67.
In this game, Wade picked up a technical foul late in the second half with his team down 53-44. It served as a spark for the team, and they even got within one point with eight seconds left, but they still lost by three to drop their second straight game.
Tennessee got their revenge over LSU at home in a big 64-50 win where they lead by double-digits for most of the game. Once again, the Tigers struggled offensively in their third straight loss.
Needing a win to stop the streak, LSU finally came up big in the clutch and beat a good Texas A&M team 70-64 at home.
Pinson returned for his first game since the Jan. 8 win over Tennessee when the Tigers faced TCU in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. However, LSU was one of four teams from the SEC to lose on Saturday. TCU out-played the Tigers in the final five minutes in their 77-68 victory.
So, to wrap up January, the Tigers picked up two huge early wins over top 25 opponents in Baton Rouge, but they stumbled and lost four of their last five games in the month. They are currently ranked 25th in the country after entering the month ranked 21st. They reached as high as 12 in the AP poll before the losing streak.
The good news for LSU fans is that the February schedule is significantly easier than what they faced in January. They only play one game against a team with a winning record in conference play, and that's a road game against fifth-ranked Kentucky on Feb. 23. The rest of the month is filled with teams at the bottom of the SEC rankings, including games against Georgia, Ole Miss, Missouri, and Vanderbilt.
LSU is currently 4-4 in conference play, but there will be plenty of opportunities for the Tigers to bounce back and go on a winning streak before having a big road test against Kentucky. They finish out the regular season with games against Arkansas and Alabama in early March, and then the SEC Tournament starts.
Yes, January was a tough stretch for LSU basketball, but they've survived it with a top 25 ranking, and the schedule gets much easier to end the year. If they respond with wins and regain some confidence, the Tigers should still finish the year near the top of the SEC.