First, a note: The late start and trek to San Francisco has me staying in Baton Rouge for this round; hence, no dateline for this entry.
The ritual whenever a team lands in the NIT bracket is to question whether the players trotting on to the floor are sufficiently motivated for a bid that, bluntly put, is a consolation prize.
But the 32-team event is a litmus test of a program’s resolve, too: Do they care? How much do they value winning? And can tonight’s first round tilt against San Francisco foreshadow next season?
First, the Tigers genuinely seemed happy to see their name pop up as a No. 5 seed. Granted, the core of the roster — Johnny O’Bryant III, Andre Stringer, Anthony Hickey and Shavon Coleman — sat in their apartments and watched the 30-minute selection show air without hearing their name called.
Ahead of the SEC tournament, the Tigers’ stated winning the title was their goal, but implied, too, was the idea they needed to hang around the Georgia Dome for the weekend to even revive faint hopes of a NCAA tournament bid. That went out the window when they ran into Kentucky, who revved up a 23-3 run during the first half that acted as a buzzsaw during an 85-67 loss for LSU.
Throw in a trio of freshman, too, that need seasoning in a “win or go home environment” and the Tigers appear to be a squad that won’t be enveloped in NIT apathy.
With the makeup of our team with the underclassmen that we have, and we have a couple of seniors that hadn’t had the experience or to embrace the NCAA Tournament – this is a great opportunity for them to continue to play and leave their mark,” Tigers coach Johnny Jones said.
Granted, it’s also Jones’ first foray into the NIT as a head coach. During his 12 seasons at North Texas, the Mean Green made two NCAA tournament trips, but never played in another postseason tournament. So we’ll get to see how Jones can manage a squad that, in some respects, didn’t measure up to preseason expectations.
(To be fair, San Francisco coach Rex Walters doesn’t have NIT or NCAA tournament coaching experience, either.)
LSU’s own history in the NIT is thin, considering it’s only the seventh time the Tigers have taken part. All total, they’ve gone just 3-7 all-time, and the last time they advanced past the first round was in 2001-2002 at the direction of John Brady.
But how predictive have those NIT trips been as far as forecasting future success? (That’s the line coaches tend to throw out, too.) Not very, actually. In three instances, which came 1983, 2002, and 2004, LSU’s NIT appearances were followed up the next season with a NCAA tournament berth. But the freshmen members of the 1983 and 2004 rosters would go on to make at least Final Four run during their careers in Baton Rouge.
Still, it’s hard to make a case for correlation and causation.
Let’s take a look at the broader trend over the past five seasons, too.
In 2009, the eight teams that made it to the quarterfinals averaged 23.3 wins the next season, with San Diego State, Saint Mary’s, Baylor, Kentucky, Notre Dame and Florida making the NCAA tournament. 186)
In 2010, the quarterfinalists averaged 21.0 wins the next season, with Illinois, North Carolina and UAB making the NCAA tournament field.
In 2011, the quarterfinalists averaged 21.3 wins the next season, and Alabama, Colorado and WichitaState made the field of 68.
The eight NIT quarterfinalists in 2012 posted an average 19.6 wins in the regular season the next year, with three making the NCAAs: Minnesota, Middle Tennessee and Oregon.
Last year’s eight NIT quarterfinalists averaged 21.9 wins this season, with five making the NCAA field in Virginia, Baylor, BYU, Providence and Iowa.
So if LSU were to make a run in the NIT, we’ve seen that the likely outcome is a 50-50 shot at making the NCAA tournament the following season to go along with 21 victories the next year. If we glean anything, it’s that LSU’s appearance this season is simply part of a potential progression that’s orderly. If the Tigers are motivated, they might be able to use the next couple weeks as a springboard into the NCAA tournament a year from now. No, the seed line wouldn’t be glitzy, likely landing between Nos. 8 and 11. But when you’re trying to rebuild consistency, quibbling isn’t an option.
Still, LSU’s evolution needs to take a critical step tonight on the West Coast before invoking all these stats is truly relevant.
“You know that you’re in a situation to survive and advance or your season is over,” Jones said. “There’s no more tomorrow. I think everyone has the ability to play with an edge at that time. This will hope, teach and prepare our guys hopefully for the future when we find ourselves in postseason play.”
- When: 9 p.m. today.
- Where: War Memorial Gymnasium, San Francisco.
- Records: No. 5 LSU 19-13; No. 4 San Francisco 21-11.
- TV: ESPNU.
- Series: First meeting.
- Last Meeting: None.
NOTE: The NCAA updates its statistical page only once a week, so I’ve decided to forgo using the rankings given that it doesn’t provide a real-time idea of where LSU stands. KenPom.com has player breakdowns and usage stats, so I’ll utilize those metrics in the Players to Watch section. If you have questions about the statistical categories, head here.
- Points Per Game: 75.1
- FG %: 44.4
- 3FG%: 34.1
- FT%: 66.9
- Rebounds Per Game: 39.7
- Assists Per Game: 14.2
- Turnovers Per Game: 13.8
- Adjusted Efficiency: 109.1 (No. 85)
- Adjusted Tempo: 70.2 (No. 28)
- Avg. Poss. Length: 17.0 (No. 69)
- Effective FG%: 49.9 (No. 151)
- Turnover %: 19.3 (No. 252)
- Off. Reb %: 35.5 (No. 43)
- FTA/FGA: 34.5 (No. 309)
- Points Allowed Per Game: 71.2
- FG% D: 40.9
- 3FG% D: 36.0
- FT%: 70.6
- Rebounds Allowed Per Game: 36.5
- Rebound Margin: +3.2
- Assists Allowed Per Game: 11.0
- Turnovers Forced Per Game: 12.9
- Adjusted Efficiency: 99.6 (No. 68)
- Avg. Poss. Length: 17.2 (No. 42)
- Effective FG% D: 46.2 (No. 54)
- Turnover %: 18.2 (No. 184)
- Off. Reb. %: 31.7 (No. 190)
- FTA/FGA: 40.0 (No. 162)
- Points Per Game: 75.2
- FG %: 47.5
- 3FG%: 37.1
- FT%: 64.9
- Rebounds Per Game: 35.5
- Assists Per Game: 14.5
- Turnovers Per Game: 11.7
- Adjusted Efficiency: 111.9 (No. 44)
- Adjusted Tempo: 65.4 (No. 225)
- Avg. Poss. Length: 18.1 (No. 194)
- Effective FG%: 53.5 (No. 33)
- Turnover %: 17.4 (No. 107)
- Off. Reb %: 32.8 (No. 126)
- FTA/FGA: 45.0 (No. 59)
- Points Allowed Per Game: 71.4
- FG% D: 43.8
- 3FG% D: 34.9
- FT%: 70.1
- Rebounds Allowed Per Game: 32.8
- Rebound Margin: +2.7
- Assists Allowed Per Game: 11.3
- Turnovers Forced Per Game: 11.8
- Adjusted Efficiency: 103.4 (No. 144)
- Avg. Poss. Length: 18.2 (No. 219)
- Effective FG% D: 50.4 (No. 208)
- Turnover %: 16.8 (No. 267)
- Off. Reb. %: 29.6 (No. 90)
- FTA/FGA: 40.3 (No. 169)
- No dilly-dallying with Dickerson: Cole Dickerson, who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 227 pounds, is a forward in name only. Really, he’s a stretch four in the vein of Georgia’s Nemanja Djurisic or Alabama’s Shannon Hale. Only he’s not just a floor spacer or pick-and-pop pest on the perimeter. He’s the primary cog for the Dons, averaging 14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. USF routes 25.0 percent of its possessions to its lone senior, who can step out to take 32.6 percent of his shots from behind the arc, per hoop-math.com. The Tigers have been burned by players fitting Dickerson’s mold, and how they approach defending him will be intriguing to watch. Meanwhile, Mark Tollefsen, who is 6-9, 199 pounds, is also a threat to step out behind the arc. The Dons shoot 37.1 percent behind the arc as a whole, too, which could be troublesome for a LSU squad that allows 44.0 percent shooting from long distance on the road.
- Bully the Dons inside: Across the front line, LSU is bigger by a margin of roughly 2 inches and 19 pounds per man. Already, LSU wants to channel its offense through Johnny O’Bryant III, who should draw either Tollefsen or Kruize Pinkins. Throw in the athleticism of Jordan Mickey, and the Tigers may be able to dominate the paint, a spot on the floor where they average 31.6 points per game. More importantly, the Dons will need to contend with the Tigers on the offensive glass. Dickerson is probably the option, given he pulls down 22.1 percent of available misses on the defensive end. But Tollefsen (10.3 percent) is slightly below average, and Pinkins (15.6) is simply that. If LSU can turn USF into a mid-major version of Vanderbilt — a team dependent on the 3-point shot, loaded with stretch fours, and susceptible on the glass — then the Tigers might be able to bludgeon their way to a win.
- Get on the run: Walters might be from the Roy Williams lineage dating back to his playing days at Kansas, but the Dons aren’t as prone to get into the open floor. USF only took 18.9 percent of its shots in transition, according to hoop-math.com. LSU, meanwhile, takes 23.9 percent of its shots while pushing the pace. The Dons aren’t turnover prone (just 17.4 percent of the offensive possessions end in one), but if the Tigers can use their press to speed up the Dons it’s an advantage. As we’ve seen, LSU doesn’t press solely to force turnovers. Jones group rolls out the press to force quick shots, and then lets its size go shag misses that filter into secondary fast breaks where its big men can get rim runs or its undersized guards have clean looks from long range before the defense sets up. Turning this one into a game played in the open floor, where its size and athleticism are distinct advantages, might be an advantage for the Tigers.
In this section, we pick out a player for each side that could be pivotal or interesting to watch. It’s not always a starter or a star, either.
- F Shavon Coleman, Sr., 6-5, 195 pounds: I’m assuming either Coleman or Jarell Martin will have to patrol the perimeter for Dickerson. Being quick on close outs and snappy with rotations is another vital matter, no matter if it is Dickerson or Tollefsen firing away. The Tigers have a tendency to be lax in their duties of defending the 3-point line, and that simply won’t do against a team that’s able to shoot consistently from those spots on the floor. Additionally, Coleman serves as the head of the Tigers’ press, and he’ll be important if the Tigers need to crank up the pace.
- G Avry Holmes, So., 6-2, 196: Until a quiet outing against BYU in the semifinals of the WCC tournament, Holmes had enjoyed a nice run during the Dons’ six-game winning streak. Before putting up just 10 points in the loss to the Cougars, the native of Salem, Ore., had averaged 19.0 points on 55.2 percent shooting over four games. During the past six games, too, Holmes’ has averaged 4.2 assists per game. He’s also the epitome of a 3-point threat. Holmes takes 41.6 percent of his shots from long range, and knocks down 44.0 percent of them.
KenPom Prediction: San Francisco 76, LSU 73 (38-percent confidence).