LSU faces Seton Hall in first big test of men’s basketball season

On the same night the LSU men’s basketball team faces its first BCS-level opponent and plays its first game on national television, the New Orleans Saints will be in action against NFC South rival Atlanta looking to keep alive their slim hopes of a playoff berth.

Coach Johnny Jones was asked Tuesday why LSU fans should get out the house Thursday rather than sit in front of their TVs and flip between the two games.

“I think that they can probably give them the (PA) announcements as the game goes on about what’s going on in that Saints game,” Jones said, smiling. “But they need to be here in the PMAC watching us on Thursday night.”

LSU tips off against Seton Hall at 8:30 p.m., about an hour after the Saints and Falcons kick off, in a game that is part of the SEC-Big East Challenge and will be carried live by ESPNU.

The fact Jones has the Tigers off to their first 4-0 start since 2008-09 is one reason fans may want to leave their Drew Brees jerseys at home and head to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center donning purple and gold.

Another is that, despite the sizzling start, Thursday should provide the first real indication of just how good these Tigers may be.

LSU took care of business through its first four games — and introduced a more exciting, full-court brand of basketball to boot — but the Tigers scored those wins against two opponents from the Southland Conference, one from the Southwestern Athletic Conference and a UC Santa Barbara team that ranks among the nation’s youngest outfits.

Seton Hall hails from the powerful Big East, won 21 games last year, and has the kind of size and length the undersized Tigers will face in Southeastern Conference play.

“It’s going to be a battle,” LSU big man Johnny O’Bryant said. “We’ve just got to out-tough them.”The first meeting between LSU and Seton Hall in basketball comes as the Tigers make their third appearance in the annual SEC-Big East event.

LSU won at Rutgers last year after losing to Villanova in 2007.

Seton Hall advanced to the second round of the NIT last year after enjoying a 20-win regular season that included upsets of Georgetown and Connecticut when both teams were ranked in the top 10. The Pirates themselves hit the rankings at No. 24 thanks to a 15-2 start.

This year, Seton Hall has four wins against non-BCS schools and lost to Washington in overtime.

Six-foot-6 forward Fuquan Edwin averages 19.7 points and six rebounds, followed by 6-9 center Eugene Teague at 13.3 points and 8.8 rebounds and 6-2 guard Aaron Cosby at 11.4 points and 1.2 assists.

“We’ll be looking at a team that is very compatible to what we will be looking at in our conference play this year,” Jones said.

How the Tigers handle Seton Hall’s size could help shape the game’s outcome.

O’Bryant provides a talented 6-9 presence on the low block, but LSU’s other options inside include converted wings Eddie Ludwig and Shavon Coleman. Seven-footer Andrew Del Piero, a former tuba player in the LSU band, has emerged in recent games after seeing only 12 minutes of action last season.

“We’re going to have to do a great job of trying to keep (Seton Hall) off the block and trying to force them to catch the ball in different areas on the floor where we can defend them,” Jones said. “We’ve got to do a great job of putting good ball pressure on the passers and not allowing for easy passes to come into the post area.”

Jones said he hopes LSU’s quickness can help keep Seton Hall off-balance.The Tigers are playing an up-tempo, fan-friendly style that has allowed them to average 81.8 points per game, up about 15 points from last year.

Coleman has been the early season surprise and leads LSU at 17.3 points per game despite coming off the bench in three of the first four games. O’Bryant has returned from an early season calf injury and is second on the team at 12.3 points.

Despite the obvious step up in competition, the Tigers said they will approach Thursday’s game like the first four.

“We’re not going to do anything different,” LSU point guard Anthony Hickey said. “It’s the first TV game, and I’m sure we’ll have a lot of people tuned in, but we’re just going to do what we’ve been doing. All we do is depend on each other. That’s what a team should do.”