LSU has come full circle since the last time this opponent popped up on the schedule.
The last time the Tigers (17-10, 7-6) faced off against Ole Miss in basketball, the LSU football team was still undefeated. The Tigers absolutely schooled the Rebels (15-12, 5-8), 81-55, in Baton Rouge.
Since that wildly successful conference opener, LSU has gone from the SEC cellar to contender and has won four consecutive conference games to land fourth in the standings.
Here are three keys for the Tigers if they’re going to repeat their success in today’s return leg to Oxford, Miss.
Return of the missing: Each roster is going to look a lot different from the first meeting.
The Tigers were missing freshman forward Johnny O’Bryant III because of a broken hand, and senior forward Malcolm White missed the win because of a death in the family.
O’Bryant’s return should be a big boost for LSU. The freshman is averaging 9.1 points and 7.3 rebounds in SEC games, with 10 blocks thrown in.
The Rebels also have reason to hope for some added contributions. Junior forward Murphy Holloway missed three games for Ole Miss during New Year’s - including the first game against LSU - because of an ankle injury.
In his 24 starts, Holloway is averaging 11 points and 8.7 boards, just behind Terrence Henry. Holloway is also good for 31 minutes per game, which should bolster the Rebels’ performance this time around.
Own the road: Despite the Tigers’ recent winning streak, the road has been a troubling place for LSU in SEC play.
Through 13 games, LSU is 1-5 in road games and 6-1 in the PMAC. The Tigers boast an impressive scoring defense when playing in Baton Rouge, holding opponents to a mere 61.4 points per game.
Away from the home floor, however, that average shoots up to 71 points. LSU has given up totals of 76 or more to three different teams in Mississippi State, Florida and Vanderbilt.
The Rebels don’t offer up the same caliber of offenses as those three teams. Ole Miss is ninth in the league in scoring. LSU has held three of its last four opponents to less than 60 points, a trend it would be smart to continue.
Beat the double team: Wednesday night against Georgia, Justin Hamilton saw the downside of leading the LSU offense.
The junior forward, leading the team with 15.1 points per game in conference play, was constantly doubled up in the paint by the Bulldogs. Facing constant pressure near the basket, Hamilton struggled and scored just seven points.
LSU coach Trent Johnson will undoubtedly look for ways to keep Hamilton producing. But with the Tigers needing as many wins as possible down the stretch, now is not a good time for the forward to struggle.
Andre Stringer stepped up against Georgia by dropping 18 points to lead the way for LSU. But the Tigers can’t afford to lose their top scorer for two games in a row. Hamilton went off for 23 points and 16 rebounds in the last meeting with Ole Miss, which is an encouraging sign.