LSU (19-13) at San Francisco (21-11)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, March 19, 10 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: War Memorial Gymnasium (5,300) -- San Francisco, California. Television: ESPN U. NIT Record: LSU 4-6, USF 6-3. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The LSU Tigers will try for their first 20-win season since the 2008-09 campaign on Wednesday night when they take on the San Francisco Dons in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament at War Memorial Gymnasium.
The winner will advance to the second round to take on the survivor of the SMU/UC Irvine matchup.
LSU (19-13) appeared earlier in the season to have what it takes to crack the NCAA Tournament field, especially after an 87-82 victory over then-No. 11 Kentucky on Jan. 28, but since then it has gone just 6-7, including a quarterfinal-round loss in the SEC Tournament to those same Wildcats, 85-67. The Tigers have made six previous trips to the NIT, but their latest in 2012 ended in a first-round loss to Oregon.
USF (21-11) enjoyed an impressive season in a competitive West Coast Conference, going 13-5 in league play, but its six-game winning streak was snapped by BYU in the WCC Tournament semifinals, 79-77 in overtime. The Dons have played well on their home floor this season at 13-6 and they are 6-3 all- time in the NIT, including the 1949 championship.
The Tigers and the Dons have never before faced off on the hardwood.
The Tigers actually ran out to an eight-point lead over Kentucky eight minutes into their latest game but quickly lost control from there, going into halftime trailing by 10 before ultimately suffering the 18-point setback. Johnny O'Bryant III was stellar with 18 points and seven boards, Jordan Mickey tallied a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds and Andre Stringer and Shavon Coleman netted 14 and 10 points, respectively.
LSU's offense is typically strong, as it scores 75.1 ppg on 44.4 percent field-goal shooting this season, but it has been floundering of late by scoring 68 points or less in six straight games. The squad is paced by an impressive frontcourt duo in O'Bryant III (15.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and Jordan Mickey (12.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 3.2 bpg), who both shoot greater than 49 percent from the field. Rounding out the balanced attack are Stringer (11.8 ppg), Martin (10.2 ppg), Coleman (9.0 ppg) and Anthony Hickey (8.7 ppg).
USF battled back from eight points down late in the second half in the WCC semis to tie the game before regulation, but BYU scored the first six points in the extra session and the Dons could never recover. Pacing four teammates in double figures was Cole Dickerson with 20 points, and he made his performance a double-double by adding 10 rebounds. Matt Glover poured in 14 points, Tim Derksen scored 11 off the bench and Avry Holmes added 10 points and seven assists to the losing effort.
Scoring points has rarely been a problem for the Dons this season, as they shoot a lofty 47.5 percent from the field for 75.2 ppg, which has been good enough to mask a lackluster scoring defense (71.4 ppg). Dickerson (14.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg) is one of the WCC's best forwards, but while he shoots 51.4 percent from the field, his free-throw percentage (.488) has been dreadful. Holmes (13.0 ppg), Kruize Pinkins (12.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Mark Tollefsen (10.7 ppg) also score in double figures, and Derksen (8.9 ppg) and Glover (8.0 ppg) chip in to the deep squad as well.
These teams are similarly constructed, which should result in a well-matched game, but LSU is at a clear disadvantage traveling out west to play a USF squad that has performed well in front of its home crowd.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: San Francisco 76, LSU 73
03/19 10:32:17 ET