Tennessee vs. LSU College Basketball Odds & Pick: Back Vols as Slight Road Favorites

Andy Lyons/Getty Images. Pictured: Jordan James.

Tennessee vs. LSU Odds

Team Odds -2.5
Team Odds +2.5
Moneyline -143/+110
Over/Under 146
Time | TV Saturday, 2 p.m. ET | ESPN
Odds as of Friday night and via BetMGM.

It’s a crowded race for second place in the SEC, with five teams having exactly four losses. Two of those teams, Tennessee and LSU, enter Saturday’s battle with identical 7-4 conference records.

This battle in Baton Rouge will go a long way towards seeding in the NCAA Tournament, and give a valuable advantage toward garnering the all important two-seed in the SEC Tournament. 

In a game with a single-digit spread, which SEC powerhouse will earn a critical late-season victory? 

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The Matchup

In terms of offense, LSU is one of the top teams in the country. The Tigers rank sixth overall in adjusted offensive efficiency, including first in SEC play. The Tigers rarely turn the ball over and are 37th in the country in two-pointer efficiency (54.7%). LSU is also strong from the foul line, shooting almost 76% as a team.

The Tigers’ offense comes primarily from four core players, led by guard Cameron Thomas. The 6-foot-4 freshman is LSU’s leading scorer at 22.4 ppg, and has eight consecutive games of 17 points or more. Sophomore Trendon Watford (16.6 ppg) and junior Ja’Vonte Smart (15.8 ppg) have been consistent scorers all year long for the Tigers, with Smart especially proficient from beyond the arc (44.6%). 

Junior Darius Days (12.4 ppg) returned quickly from an ankle injury, and provided 16 points and 11 rebounds in LSU’s 94-80 win at Mississippi State. 

But the Tigers really struggle on the defensive end of the floor. While they are elite on the offensive boards as a result of players such as Days (8.1 rpg) and Watford (6.9 rgp), their defensive efficiency numbers are among the worst in the SEC. The Tigers rank 11th in adjusted defensive efficiency, 11th in defensive rebounding, and 12th in two-point percentage allowed. It is not surprising that LSU has struggled mightily against high-quality defensive opponents such as Alabama, Kentucky, Texas Tech, and Florida. 

This bodes poorly for the battle against the Volunteers. 

Tennessee ranks second among all teams in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom. The Volunteers rank 15th in effective field goal percentage allowed and 14th in defensive block percentage. They have allowed opponents to shoot just 45.5% from two-point range and a microscopic 29% from beyond the arc. The Volunteers’ on-ball pressure is also elite, forcing an average of 16.6 turnovers per game (32nd most).

The teams that have caused Tennessee the most trouble are those that try to match them defensively. The Volunteers’ most recent loss was 52-50 at Mississippi, an elite defensive team. The Rebels held Tennessee to just 30.8% from three-point range while forcing 16 turnovers. 

LSU will not present that much defensive resistance. 

The Volunteers’ offense is based around freshman Jaden Springer. The 6-foot-4 guard has exploded the last two games, scoring 30 and 23 points against Georgia and Kentucky. The Volunteers are 10-0 this season when Springer scores in double-digits. Victor Bailey Jr. (10.2 ppg), Keon Johnson (10.1 ppg), and John Fulkerson (10 ppg) round out a balanced scoring attack. 

Tennessee was without star defender Yves Pons in their last game against Georgia, but the versatile 6-foot-6 forward has been cleared against LSU. Pons, Springer, and sophomore Josiah-Jordan James all average more than 1.2 steals per game. Pons and James also average more than 1.1 blocks per game. 

Head coach Rick Barnes’ team brings elite defensive pressure every night. This will certainly limit the LSU offense, but will the Tigers be able to do enough on defense to match the Volunteers?

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Betting Analysis & Pick

With both Springer and Pons healthy, this Tennessee team is at maximum efficiency. The Volunteers earned comfortable road wins over Missouri (73-53), Kentucky (82-71), and just came off a solid home win over high-scoring Georgia. 

In order to beat the Volunteers, you need to match their defensive intensity, and I don’t see LSU having that ability. The Tigers have allowed opponents to score 76, 80, 105, and 71 points in their last four home games. If the Volunteers score in the high-70s, the Tigers will lose. 

I’m taking the Volunteers as a slight road favorite in Baton Rouge. They are the better all-around team, and the return of Pons will provide a huge obstacle to an LSU teams that needs to outscore opponents to win. 

Pick: Tennessee -2.5| Play up to Tennessee -3


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