8. NC State Wolfpack (20-13, 10-8/ACC)–This enigmatic Wolfpack squad was both giant-killer and underachiever this season. NC State owns wins over Duke, at Louisville, and at North Carolina, but also lost to Wofford, Boston College, Clemson and Wake Forest.
The ‘Pack have a big front line, led by a pair of 6-9 sophomores in Kyle Washington and Beejay Anya. Unfortunately for them, that’s LSU’s strength as well. State’s guards might be the difference in this game, and when they play well, NC State plays well. 6-3 junior Trevor Lacey (15.8 ppg, 3.4 apg), 6-5 senior Ralston Turner (13.2 ppg) and 6-2 sophomore Anthony Barber (12.1 ppg) will key the Wolfpack if they are going to make a run.
16th Blocks per game (5.3)
38th Defensive Rebounds per game (25.7)
256th Assists per game (11.6)
9. LSU Tigers (22-10, 11-7 SEC)–The Tigers may have given Kentucky its biggest scare of the regular season, holding a late lead over the Wildcats before falling apart in a 71-69 loss in Baton Rouge on February 10.
LSU has talent, particularly up front in 6-10 sophomore Jarell Martin, who was named first-team All-SEC after averaging 16.9 points and 9.2 rebounds this year. Frontcourt mate Jordan Mickey might be even more dangerous, particularly on the defensive end, where he averages 3.6 blocks to go with his 15.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
The guards are the problem for this Tigers squad–as many times they try to do too much and forget where their bread is buttered (down low). Head coach Johnny Jones, who has taken teams into the NCAA Tournament at North Texas, did a nice job of maximizing the talent on this squad. LSU has often underachieved with talented teams. Not this year.
8th Defensive Rebounds (27.1)
7th Blocks per game (6.2)
16th Assists per game (15.7)
PREDICTION: LSU. The Tigers’ defense clogs up the lane and forces the NC State guards to beat them with the three. The hot-and-cold ‘Pack go cold, and LSU uses its edge inside to win the game with some easy baskets late.