Moses Moody #5 of the Arkansas Razorbacks attempts to drive to the basket. Brett Carlsen/Getty Images/AFP
The odds for today’s SEC tournament semifinals have been released. The game that interests me the most is LSU vs. Arkansas. By considering the match-up and by assessing their last meeting, I arrive at a recommendation for playing the spread with your best bets, so read on for an in-depth analysis and a pick for Saturday’s college action.
LSU Tigers vs. Arkansas Razorbacks
Saturday, March 13, 2021 – 03:00 PM EST at Bridgestone Arena
LSU’s Important Scorers
As measured by percentage of their team’s shots taken and of their possessions involved in, Cameron Thomas and Trendon Watford are extremely important for LSU’s offense. Because LSU is so reliant on two contributors, both players performed well and scored about 20 points in nearly each of its straight-up and ATS wins.
Other players also need to step up. Darius Days is a particularly important role player. In seven of his team’s eight straight-up losses, he failed to convert a three-point attempt. So what would make the Tigers a strong bet tonight is if we can expect (at least) both Thomas and Watford to succeed.
To be as fair as possible to LSU, we can assume that Days will knock down some threes, although if you exclude his last 0-for-8 effort from deep against the Razorbacks, he remains just 3-of-11 from deep in his career against them. I also love Thomas. But Thomas scoring 20+ points offers zero indication that his team will cover the spread. There are countless examples of Thomas thriving and his team not covering.
It’s Watford who I don’t believe in. Without a strong performance from him, the Tigers will not stand a chance to cover the spread posted by sports betting sites. Watford did score 16 points in LSU’s first meeting with Arkansas. But he needed 13 two-point attempts in order to reach that number.
LSU tried hard — with smoke screens, for example — to free up Watford. But he was unable to be efficient. So he wasted a lot of his team’s offensive possessions. Watford differs from a guy like Thomas who complements his strength and physicality with a quick release, quickness in general, and a variety of moves in the paint.
Watford does not have that quickness. So he is easier to guard even when Arkansas has the slower-footed Connor Vanover in at center. I think Watford will struggle again because the Razorback defense typically contains opposing big men, no matter how good they usually are.
Missouri’s Jeremiah Tilmon, for example, mustered only nine points in his team’s loss to Arkansas last night. He had as many turnovers as two-pointers. Size and strength does not bother the Razorbacks’ defense, which is well-stocked with rim-protectors who play bigger than their actual size.The LSU Tigers bench watches a teammates free throw. Brett Carlsen/Getty Images/AFP
LSU’s Offensive Style
On offense, LSU easily falls in love with isolation plays, which is why it ranks last in the SEC in rate of assists per field goals made. The Tigers will try to spread the defense out in order to free up space inside and around the basket for a ball-handler, probably Thomas. When they were beating Arkansas, they had more success getting inside the paint.
It’s true that Vanover’s lack of lateral speed can make him a liability on defense. But he’s been receiving fewer minutes and he makes up for bad defense by stretching the floor with three-point shooting at the other end and by using his length to block a lot of shots at the basket.
What I liked about Arkansas’ defense is that, after falling behind early, it made adjustments that made all of their big men a weapon on defense and not a potential liability. In its ball-screen coverage, Arkansas initially had its center play deep in drop coverage.
But look at 14:19 in the following video to see the change:[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UL8rJ27opQY?start=859&feature=oembed]
Here, the Razorback center is playing more closely to LSU’s ball-handler as he tries to attack downhill after using a screen. In standing in his path, Arkansas’ center prevents the drive while allowing the ball-screened defender to recover to his man. Plus, the center remains in position to account for the Tiger player rolling to the basket.
Moreover, at 10:09 in the video you see Arkansas focus on defending the drive. Players are well-positioned to help out and stop the Tiger player from succeeding in isolation. Razorback defenders can position themselves nearer to the paint — while helping off potential Tiger shooters in the process — because LSU only has a couple shooters who can threaten from deep.Davonte Davis #4 of the Arkansas Razorbacks shoots the ball. Brett Carlsen/Getty Images/AFP
Arkansas Offense vs. LSU Defense
Since a poor opening stretch in its first game against LSU, Arkansas has developed comfort against LSU’s defense with its mixture of zone, man, and three-quarter counter pressure. Note for your sports betting that, on offense, Arkansas is more balanced and plays more of a successful team game than LSU.
Having a variety of higher-scoring guys is important because the Tiger defense will sometimes trap, thus forcing the ball into someone else’s hands. When the Razorbacks look to drive inside, teammates will move well without the ball in order to bail out the Razorback player driving the ball in case he should hit a wall.
Five different Razorback shooters knock down at least 34 percent of their three-point attempts. Other guys will step up if a couple struggle.
I talked about LSU’s strengths — particularly Cameron Thomas — and Arkansas’ weaknesses — namely Connor Vanover’s lack of foot speed on defense — and why these things don’t matter.
Thomas’ scoring output won’t matter today because he can never carry his team to a cover by himself. He’ll need help from Watford, who will struggle like other talented bigs do against Arkansas’ interior defense.
Vanover’s lack of foot speed doesn’t matter because he is helpful in other ways, doesn’t play as many minutes, and benefits from an adjusted ball-screen coverage that doesn’t let its centers stand on an island against LSU players trying to drive inside.
With strong help defense undermining LSU’s iso game and with better passing and off-ball movement complementing greater scoring balance, the Razorbacks will cover the short spread. For the above reasons, bet on Arkansas with your college basketball picks.
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*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.