Johnny O’Bryant III and LSU will try to extend their season in a rematch against Alabama on Thursday at the Georgia Dome during the SEC tournament.
ATLANTA – Six weeks ago, LSU trudged off the floor at Coleman Coliseum after a loss that encapsulates the Tigers approach of taking a large leap forward and then tumbling back this season.
In an 82-80 loss on Jan. 25, the Tigers did the following during a 40-minute span:
- Gave up a 22-0 run to trail by 13 points midway through the first half.
- Shot 32.1 percent in the first half.
- Trailed by 19 points with 17 minutes left to play.
- Rallied back with an 11-2 run over two minutes to pull within four points with less than nine minutes left.
- Forced 11 turnovers they turned into 14 second-half points.
- Led twice within the final two minutes, including 77-76 with 1:10 to play.
- Lost forward Shannon Hale on a switch, giving up a go-ahead 3-pointer with 46 seconds remaining.
- Fought back despite allowing 60.6 percent shooting in the second half.
The above bullet points illustrate LSU’s clear case of split-personality disorder. Within the span of a lone game, they can at once appear doomed, a team clearly part of the SEC’s lesser lights. Yet they also possess enough grit — and raw talent — to overcome their flaws: a defensive intensity that comes-and-goes, smaller guards that can settle for jump shots, and a stagnant offense when Johnny O’Bryant III heads to the bench with foul trouble.
No matter your feelings on LSU’s season, there’s evidence to support both sides in a debate. So, the question ahead of their second-round tilt against the Crimson Tide in the SEC tournament is which persona wins the tug of war.
“You focus on what’s ahead,” guard Andre Stringer said Wednesday. “You can’t think about the past. We understand things happened, but this is a challenge that’s been placed in front of us, and it’s time for us to go out and execute and go on to win.”
Clearly, LSU coach Johnny Jones wants to accentuate “the positive things that really happened to us to this” and “how close we were on some other situations.”
Will today’s display mimic their dominant displays in Baton Rouge against Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas A&M? Or evoke irksome memories of road flops in Tuscaloosa, Oxford and College Station? What about playing in the largely sterile environment inside the Georgia Dome when the Tigers clearly thrive on a crowd’s energy?
“It starts inside our locker room,” O’Bryant said Wednesday. “You got to get your team pumped up. We are ready to play. We are really ready to come out and play. And that’s where it starts: Inside our locker room.”
Can LSU, a team allowing a dismal 78.3 points and worrisome 45.6 percent shooting in road games, find a way to clamp down Thursday?
“It’s refocusing, watching more film on your free time, knowing the player that you are going up against better,” Stringer said. “We played (Alabama) a couple times before, so it’s all about just executing and doing it.”
The ramifications are dicey if the Tigers’, who might be a dark horse behind top-seed Florida and No. 4 seed Tennessee, season ends today. The past week has made it clear LSU, a program that started the year with buzz of ending a NCAA tournament drought stretching back four years, could very well miss the NIT.
Yet the inverse is also possible: A string of victories that propels LSU into extending its stay over the weekend. The matchups against Alabama, Kentucky and, potentially, No. 6 seed Ole Miss or third-seeded Georgia are ones the Tigers could exit on top.
On Monday, Jones was tossed the usual question this time of the Gregorian calendar about whether his team needs to play as if its sturdy backs are pressed against a wall.
His reply: A little bit of both.
“We need to be playing at a certain level,” Jones told reporters. “When you have your back against the wall there is a certain sense of urgency that you have. That looseness is that you’re not putting too much pressure on yourself in terms of being able to perform that you’re playing too tight.”
- When: 6 p.m. today.
- Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta.
- Records: No. 7 LSU 18-12; No. 10 Alabama (13-18)
- TV: WBXH (Dave Neal, Jon Sunvold).
- Series: Alabama leads 103-68.
- Last Meeting: Alabama won 82-80 on Jan. 25, 2014, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
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: 75.6
- FG %: 44.3
- 3FG%: 33.4
- FT%: 68.0
- Rebounds Per Game: 40.0
- Assists Per Game: 14.1
- Turnovers Per Game: 13.9
- Adjusted Efficiency: 108.8 (No. 94)
- Adjusted Tempo: 70.6 (No. 24)
- Avg. Poss. Length: 16.9 (No. 63)
- Effective FG%: 49.7 (No. 160)
- Turnover %: 19.4 (No. 254)
- Off. Reb %: 36.0 (No. 35)
- FTA/FGA: 34.8 (No. 305)
- Points Allowed Per Game: 71.3
- FG% D: 40.9
- 3FG% D: 36.1
- FT%: 71.7
- Rebounds Allowed Per Game: 36.3
- Rebound Margin: +3.7
- Assists Allowed Per Game: 11.0
- Turnovers Forced Per Game: 13.2
- Adjusted Efficiency: 99.3 (No. 86)
- Avg. Poss. Length: 17.1 (No. 35)
- Effective FG% D: 46.1 (No. 52)
- Turnover %: 18.5 (No. 166)
- Off. Reb. %: 31.5 (No. 176)
- FTA/FGA: 38.6 (No. 135)
- Points Per Game: 68.2
- FG %: 44.7
- 3FG%: 33.6
- FT%: 69.1
- Rebounds Per Game: 32.9
- Assists Per Game: 11.1
- Turnovers Per Game: 12.0
- Adjusted Efficiency: 103.9 (No. 192)
- Adjusted Tempo: 63.3 (No. No. 317)
- Avg. Poss. Length: 19.2 (No. 298)
- Effective FG%: 49.5 (No. 176)
- Turnover %: 20.5 (No. 301)
- Off. Reb %: 30.3 (No. 214)
- FTA/FGA: 42.8 (No. 107)
- Points Allowed Per Game: 67.2
- FG% D: 41.6
- 3FG% D: 30.0
- FT%: 74.9
- Rebounds Allowed Per Game: 34.8
- Rebound Margin: -1.9
- Assists Allowed Per Game: 11.7
- Turnovers Forced Per Game: 12.9
- Adjusted Efficiency: 99.5 (No. 73)
- Avg. Poss. Length: 18.1 (No. 215)
- Effective FG% D: 46.6 (No. 61)
- Turnover %: 19.3 (No. 110)
- Off. Reb. %: 34.5 (No. 304)
- FTA/FGA: 42.1 (No. 213)
Here, we look at three areas that may determine the game’s outcome. Stats are pulled from the most recent game notes, while advanced metrics are taken from kenpom.com or hoop-math.com.
- Make Releford irrelevant: This point is obvious. The senior, who has averaged 18.8 points and shot 50.5 percent from the floor, drives the Crimson Tide. In the first meeting with LSU, he had a ho-hum 21 points, and 17 of those came in the first half as the Tide nearly ran the Tigers out of the gym. So, it would seem apparent to Jones and Co. to stop him. Releford, though, presents a conundrum: He can attack the rim, shooting 41.0 percent of his shots at the tin and making 65.3 percent of those attempts. But he can also stretch the Tigers’ zone, hitting 39.7 percent behind the 3-point line. LSU appears intent on making him beat them from distance, or so they say. “The biggest thing is to keep him out of the lane,” LSU guard Anthony Hickey said. “They set a lot of screens to get him inside, so we just need to find him on the floor.” Does that mean solo coverage? LSU doesn’t switch screens, but in typical fashion now the Tide set a lot screens directly behind a player to let a guard plow downhill. “I’m sure we’re to try and lock him in the middle, and make someone else make plays,” Hickey said. Or think of it this way, too: “Staying attached,” guard Andre Stringer said. “Realizing where he is on the floor and not giving him easy shot selections, not letting him get out on the break and do what he does in the fast break. It’s a number of things.”
- Outrun the Tide: The Tigers slashed-and-burned the Tide’s sizable lead by rolling out the press in Tuscaloosa. Not only did it generate points, but it got the Tigers six more possessions — 39, to be exact — than they had in the first half. It also yielded 11 more shots the Tigers than the Tide. Bama doesn’t want to run. They want to turn the game into wood chipper that chews up and spits out opponents. On Wednesday, Tide coach Anthony Grant hinted transition defense will be an area of importance. “Our ability to take care of the basketball and try to limit them from getting in transition (is key),” Grant said. Now, there’s the small matter of the Tigers’ bench being shorter since guard Malik Morgan, a 6-3 sophomore guard, went down with a torn patellar tendon in his knee against Auburn last month. It stripped the Tigers of another body, and length vital on the front of the press. “We don’t have a whole lot of options unfortunately right now because we’re only playing about seven guys right now,” Jones said. “This time of year games are so close and minutes are so important that it comes down to seconds and making plays. It becomes extremely tough. You’d like to try to find some time to get a little bit deeper maybe in your rotation.” Still, the Tigers have managed to press during segments of games between spans of five minutes to 10 minutes, often when Jones wants to get LSU’s offense spurred in the open floor — the Tigers get 24.3 percent of their shots in transition, per hoop-math.com — or take slow teams out of their normal rhythm. It may mimic Arkansas’ brand of full-bore pressure, but keep an eye on when the Tigers deploy their own form of badgering. ”I believe we can press the whole game, but it will be coach’s call,” Hickey said. “We’ve got enough depth that we can swap in and out the whole game.”
- (Puts on broken record) Again, defend the 3-point arc. LSU may well have won in Tuscaloosa had it not been for the Tigers’ on-going struggle to rotate, close out and contest teams firing away from long-range. The Tigers were dead last in the SEC by giving up 39.6 percent shooting from behind the arc. In Tuscaloosa, the Tide canned 7 of 9 3-pointers in the second half, and it wasn’t Releford wreaking havoc. Rodney Cooper hit all four of the ones he hoisted up. Hale went 3 of 4, the last one putting Alabama up for good. I’ll put it this way, if LSU holds Bama to 45.0 percent shooting inside the arc (the Tigers’ average and fifth in the SEC), they will have a chance if the Tide hit under 35.0 percent of their attempts from deep. Now the question is whether the Tigers, a team that struggles mightily on the road, actually execute.
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.
- G Andre Stringer, Sr., 5-10, 190 pounds: The Tide’s zone gave LSU fits at points in the paint last time they met. I detailed this a little bit in Wednesday’s notebook, but Bama made Johnny O’Bryant III and Jordan Mickey play in a ton of traffic and clutter on the block. They went just 4 of 11 for a combined nine points. The solution is to stretch out Tide by punishing them from long distance. So, I’ll pick Stringer. He’s shooting 39.0 percent in road games this season from behind the arc. Hickey is at 37.5 percent, and it will be interesting to see which gets more open looks. Bama’s Retin Obasohan is a decent defender and may shadow Stringer, but he’s accustom to the attention. A big night from Stringer (or any Tigers perimeter player) is on Grant’s mind, too. “They have two dynamic guards that can really stretch you with the way they shoot the ball,” he said.
- F Shannon Hale, Fr., 6-8, 220: This was a run off with Rodney Cooper, who has put together some quality offensive nights, and Jimmie Taylor, a freshman filling in for the absent Nick Jacobs. Hale’s a pick-and-pop risk hitting 34.9 percent of his 3-pointers. Inside the arc, though, he’s shooting 49.5 percent, but only 32.5 percent of those looks come in the paints. If you can lure LSU’s bigs away or put them in a bind on whether to scramble back to help or protect the rim, Hale poses a threat. Granted, I like how Taylor has filled in as a post defender, but the Tide need some production from its big men scoring-wise to alleviate pressure on Releford, Cooper and Levi Randolph.
KenPom Prediction: LSU 70, Alabama 69 (57-percent confidence).