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Late Reading: In a blip, the Tigers’ season ends

SMU guards Keith Frazier, left, Nick Russell, center, and guard Nic Moore, right, celebrate after winning giving LSU the boot in the second round of the NIT on Monday.

Associated Press photo — SMU guards Keith Frazier, left, Nick Russell, center, and guard Nic Moore, right, celebrate after  giving LSU the boot in the second round of the NIT on Monday.

DALLAS – Wow, that got out of hand quickly.

Or so says a certain fictional news anchor. Or anyone on press row. Or any of the pack of purple-and-gold fans sitting in the upper sections of Moody Coliseum.

Or maybe they were muttering other things that can’t be typed in this space.

Closing the book on his second season, Johnny Jones’ squad put together a 40-minute Petri dish that is a sample of the good, bad and ugly LSU put on at points this season.

A first half where the Tigers dazzled in the open floor, found Johnny O’Bryant III consistently in the paint and showed tenacity in competing on the backboards and showing defensive focus that’s proven elusive. The second half? Well, the wheels went sailing off the car. JOBIII got just three shots. LSU lofted up 13 shots from behind the arc. Meanwhile SMU started strafing the Tigers to shoot 64.3 percent.

So, there you go. The Tigers go into the offseason with plenty of questions, and perhaps frustration — at least from fans — about a season that ran hot and cold.

The Rundown

The Standouts

  • Andre Stringer: The senior went down swinging. He went 5 of 10 behind the 3-point for 15 points. Until SMU swung the focus of its defense to force the ball out of his hands, the veteran did everything he could to prolong his career another two days. He leaves second all-time in made 3-pointers with 242, and Stringer wrapped up his time in Baton Rouge as a 34.9-percent shooter from long range.
  • Shavon Coleman: In the first half, he was his usual self as the X-Factor for the Tigers. He scored eight points and yanked down seven rebounds. After halftime, he put up zeroes in both those columns. Say this much: SMU coach Larry Brown took a way the Tigers’ glue guy. On the defensive end, he only had a lone steal in the final 20 minutes, emblematic of a LSU press that was picked apart at certain junctures. Still, the Tigers’ other senior helped put the Tigers in position to steal an upset.

The Critiques

  • Shot selection: LSU has shown a tendency to fall in love with quick jumpers this season. I’ve written that, well, a lot. Tonight was different. The Tigers went away from their strengths in the paint. In the first half, many of the 3-pointers they put up in going 5 of 10 were within the rhythm of the offense, or in transition. Part of that had to do with SMU choking off the paint, but none of the Tigers’ guards were able to drive, create and force the defense to collapse for kick outs. Often, they were the byproduct of an offense bogged down.
  • Johnny O’Bryant III in the second half: The big bloke put up just three shots. Yes, three. Again, he was facing a slew of pressure, but the junior didn’t sound all that happy with how the offense was unfolding over the final 20 minutes. “It was just an up-tempo game,” O’Bryant said. “We didn’t really have half-court sets ran, and that was the issue and we turned the ball over.” Yes, he finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, but he was silenced in a half where the Tigers could have used a dominant effort.
  • 3-point defense:  After a great job limiting San Francisco behind the arc in their NIT opener, the Tigers reverted back to form. SMU shot 64.3 percent from long-range tonight, including 5 of 7 in the second half. The Mustangs entered averaging around 12 attempts per game, so they’re not exactly prone to launching them in bulk. But the looks they got against LSU were largely unobstructed. Again, LSU looked slow rotating defensively or late on close outs.

The Quote

 ”I would have to think the program is in tremendous shape. We’re excited about the guys that have been a part of the program. They’ve really set the tone and allowed these young guys to really come in and want to be a part of something special.”

– LSU coach Johnny Jones.

The Look-Ahead

 The waiting game begins. It’s expected O’Bryant will depart for the NBA draft in the next couple of weeks. Freshman Jordan Mickey is going to consult with his parents and potentially solicit an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee. Fellow freshman Jarell Martin already said he’s inclined to come back to Baton Rouge for a sophomore season. If Mickey and Martin stick around, the Tigers’ front court should be in good shape. Elbert Robinson, a Dallas native and top-50 recruit, was on hand to watch the Tigers, too. At 7-foot and trimmed down to 290 pounds, Robinson seems a natural replacement for O’Bryant in the paint. Guard Anthony Hickey will be a senior, and bolstered by UNC-Asheville transfer Keith Hornsby and JUCO scorer Josh Gray. The pieces should be in place for the Tigers to clearly set their sights on a NCAA tournament bid.

Will LSU be weary when they run with SMU tonight in the NIT?

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A tight travel schedule has me on a compressed timeline today — have you seen three different terminals at Houston International, by the way — for our Game Day post. So, it’ll be shorter than usual. 

DALLAS – If LSU’s players aspire for professional careers, they’ll get a taste of the grind today.

Maybe tomorrow, too.

If the fifth-seeded Tigers knock off top-seed SMU in the second round of the NIT, they’ll have a one-day turnaround before playing Wednesday night. Only they won’t know until a couple hours after their done — in the middle of the night — whether it’s a trip back to the West Coast or a third-meeting with a SEC West foe.

The winner of No. 2 seed California and No. 3 seed Arkansas would have home-court advantage, meaning the Tigers’ coaching staff and support crew will face some sleepless hours trying to get a scouting report knocked out, accommodations double-checked and players moving on from a tilt featuring two teams analysts pegged as potential NCAA tournament squads.

LSU is benefiting from off days late last week, but there’s no telling whether spending the better part of two weeks on the road in the past month will finally take its toll.

Players can talk about the routine mimicking a summer on the grass roots hoop circuit, but they weren’t dealing with a 30-game schedule that came before it, either.

Keep in mind, too, that SMU’s rotation can go up to 11 deep, and contrasts with a Tigers’ roster where seven bodies chew up minutes. The contrast is stark, too. Five players on LSU’s roster play more than 25 minutes, with Johnny O’Bryant III, Jordan Mickey and Anthony Hickey logging more than 30 per game. SMU? Only guards Nic Moore and Nick Russell see a similar work load as the Tigers trio of starters. After that, only one other player goes longer than 24 minutes.

The Mustangs, who were upset in the first round of the American Athletic Conference tournament, have played just twice since March 8. One of those was their NIT opener against UC-Irvine. LSU has played four times, with three of those at a neutral site and on the road. The last time LSU played in Baton Rouge was its March 8 against Georgia in the regular-season finale.

So, the question looms whether the Tigers, now on their third road trip and with a fourth potentially ahead of them, beginning to feel the effect of all those miles logged.

The Info

  • When: 8 p.m. today.
  • Where: Moody Coliseum, Dallas.
  • Records: No. 5 LSU 20-13; No. 1 SMU 24-9
  • TV: ESPN
  • Series: Tied 2-2.
  • Last Meeting: LSU won 91-88 on Dec. 10, 1965, in Baton Rouge.

The Stats

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

LSU

Offense:

  • Points Per Game: 74.9
  • FG %: 44.4
  • 3FG%: 34.2
  • FT%: 67.0
  • Rebounds Per Game: 39.5
  • Assists Per Game: 14.1
  • Turnovers Per Game: 13.7
  • Adjusted Efficiency: 109.7 (No. 78)
  • Adjusted Tempo: 70.0 (No. 31)
  • Avg. Poss. Length: 17.0 (No. 69)
  • Effective FG%: 50.0 (No. 147)
  • Turnover %: 19.2 (No. 246)
  • Off. Reb %: 35.2 (No. 49)
  • FTA/FGA: 34.5 (No. 309)

Defense:

  • Points Allowed Per Game: 71.0
  • FG% D: 41.0
  • 3FG% D: 35.1
  • FT%: 70.5
  • Rebounds Allowed Per Game: 36.6
  • Rebound Margin: +2.9
  • Assists Allowed Per Game: 11.1
  • Turnovers Forced Per Game: 12.8
  • Adjusted Efficiency: 98.9 (No. 60)
  • Avg. Poss. Length: 17.2 (No. 45)
  • Effective FG% D: 46.2 (No. 47)
  • Turnover %: 18.0 (No. 197)
  • Off. Reb. %: 31.8 (No. 206)
  • FTA/FGA: 39.2 (No. 149)

SMU

Offense:

  • Points Per Game: 71.3
  • FG %: 48.2
  • 3FG%: 37.4
  • FT%: 68.3
  • Rebounds Per Game: 36.3
  • Assists Per Game: 15.1
  • Turnovers Per Game: 13.5
  • Adjusted Efficiency: 108.4 (No. 99)
  • Adjusted Tempo: 66.5 (No. 166)
  • Avg. Poss. Length: 17.6 (No. 134)
  • Effective FG%: 52.5 (No. 45)
  • Turnover %: 20.3 (No. 295)
  • Off. Reb %: 34.6 (No. 65)
  • FTA/FGA: 44.8 (No. 58)

Defense:

  • Points Allowed Per Game: 60.2
  • FG% D: 37.7
  • 3FG% D: 31.8
  • FT%: 69.2
  • Rebounds Allowed Per Game: 31.9
  • Rebound Margin: +4.4
  • Assists Allowed Per Game: 11.5
  • Turnovers Forced Per Game: 14.2
  • Adjusted Efficiency: 93.1 (No. 10)
  • Avg. Poss. Length:  18.4 (No. 262)
  • Effective FG% D: 43.9 (No. 7)
  • Turnover %: 21.4 (No. 25)
  • Off. Reb. %: 31.9 (No. 149)
  • FTA/FGA: 40.3 (No. 168)

 The Breakdown

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.

  • Protect the lane: touched on this aspect last Friday, so I’ll be brief here. LSU has size, but not much proven depth after O’Bryant, Mickey and Martin, who has spent more time recently operating on the wing. SMU can roll at least five men through that are at least 6-foot-9, and only starter Markus Kennedy (24.9 mpg) chews up much time. Outside of Kentucky and Tennessee, few front lines in the SEC matched what LSU rolled out. Lets’ review what the Vols and Wildcats did to the Tigers. It’s not pretty. In four games, UK and UT averaged 38 points in the paint, yanked down 43.2 rebounds and owned a plus-8.0 margin on the backboards. The Mustangs led the AAC in rebounding margin and in rebounds allowed. See where I’m going here, folks? Imagine if LSU runs into foul trouble up front. Who can Jones turn to? There’s Darcy Malone and John Odo, but do you think either can fill the void?
  • Slow down Nic Moore: Finally, LSU doesn’t face a hulking guard. But it hardly matters that the sophomore is only 5-9, 170 pounds. He averages 4.9 assists per game. He owns a glittering 62.2 true-shooting percentage while posting 14.2 points per game. Oh, and he knocks down 44.4 percent of his 3-pointers, which should make a LSU defense that’s struggled defending the 3-point line nervous. And he makes great decisions on the break, dishing out 35.8 percent of his assists in transition. Anthony Hickey loves the challenge of matching up with ace point guards, and he’ll get his fill tonight against a prospect that was a member of the All-Freshman team in the Missouri Valley Conference before transferring from Illinois State.
  • Good timing: LSU’s improved defensively on the road in recent weeks, and it’s been able to eke out a couple of close road wins at Vanderbilt and in its NIT opener at San Francisco. But as we detailed here, the Tigers’ made enough timely plays against the Dons to extend the lead to as many as 16 points, but wasted five possessions inside the final five minutes that opened the door back up slightly after USF trimmed the lead to six points. The Tigers got 14 points from Jarell Martin in the first half, only to see him disappear after the break. A combined 19 points from seniors Shavon Coleman and Andre Stringer helped offset Martin fading into the background. LSU coach Johnny Jones said Martin did a nice job fitting in to flow of the offense and wasn’t shot hunting. And you always expect the home team to make their push, he added late last week. But the margin for error — giving up 40 points in the paint, missing free throws, and losing players on back door lobs — gets narrower this week. Can LSU evolve and mature? Can they clean up late-game execution? Do that and they may live on to Wednesday.

The Line

KenPom Prediction: SMU 74, LSU 67 (77% confidence).

 

 

LSU’s Raigyne Moncrief being evaluated for Tuesday; Youngblood suspended indefinitely

LSU guard Raigyne Moncrief will undergo a medical evaluation Monday afternoon to determine whether she will be available to play for the Lady Tigers in Tuesday’s second-round NCAA Tournament game against West Virginia.

Moncrief injured her left knee Sunday with 15:45 left in LSU’s 98-78 first-round win over Georgia Tech as she attempted to drive to the basket. She had to be helped to the locker room.

Moncrief injured her right knee in February and was making her first start since Feb. 20.

Junior Danielle Harden, who started five straight games in Moncrief’s absence, will likely start against West Virginia (8:30 p.m., ESPN2). The winner advances to the regional semifinals Sunday in Louisville, Ky.

Harden scored 17 points off the bench and made all three of her 3-point attempts.

LSU coach Nikki Caldwell expressed optimism that Moncrief will be cleared to play. The freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is averaging 10.1 points per game, third on the team.

Meanwhile, Caldwell announced sophomore center Derreyal Youngblood is suspended for the NCAA Tournament. Caldwell said the suspension was for a violation of team rules but did not elaborate.

Youngblood did not play against Georgia Tech and wasn’t seen on the team bench.

The Harvey native has been suspended previously this season and hasn’t played since LSU’s regular-season finale March 2 at Alabama. She is averaging 1.2 points and 1.4 rebounds in 21 games.

Late Reading: Tigers timely in moves to advance

The Rundown

The Takeaway 

Well, we know LSU cares. Perhaps the execution after taking a 16-point lead with eight minutes left was lacking. Sure, the Tigers were beaten 40-34 on the backboards and outscored 40-30 in the paint. Oh, and there were the 17 points they handed over on 10 turnovers. No one will leave Wednesday saying the Tigers looked convincing in coach Johnny Jones NIT debut. The simple rebuttal: LSU 71, San Francisco 63.

The Tigers managed to set aside their nature and defend the 3-point line, limiting a Dons team shooting 37.1 percent on the season to just 3 of 23 on the night. Really, that’s your difference. The Tigers went 8 of 22 from long range, and they knocked down seven more free throws. In short, they did enough to win. They got a timely 9-0 run over two minutes, capped by back-to-back 3-pointers from Anthony Hickey and Tim Quarterman to get the lead stretched.

Then the Tigers let the Dons whittle it down to six before salting it away in the final minute at the line.

That’ll have to do. Remember, just Hickey, Andre Stringer and Johnny O’Bryant have any postseason experience, and that was a 20-point first-round rout in this same tournament two years ago. So, LSU will simply smile, shove their belongings in backpacks, walk to the bus and escape to a charter flight.

The Tigers weren’t perfect, but they were timely enough and sturdy enough in their execution to advance. For a team that at point lost seven in a row from Baton Rouge, it’s another step forward. A shaky one, though.

The Standouts

  • Jarell Martin: Johnny Jones summed up Martin’s first half succinctly: “Unbelievable.” From the opening tip, and through two ill-advised jumpers, the former McDonald’s All-American was in attack mode. He scored 14 points in the first half, and keyed two LSU spurts to help the Tigers in front for over 38 minutes. But it was also efficient. The Baton Rouge native finished with a plus-10 rating, grabbed six rebounds and did a nice job not forcing the action in the second half, where he was quiet with a lone bucket. For an offense that too often settled for jumpers instead of forcing it into the paint, Martin was a vital bridge.
  • The Seniors: Shavon Coleman and Andre Stringer were thrilled to get one more game together. On Wednesday, they added another to the docket. The duo scored 19 points in the second half, knocking down 5 of 7 shots and hitting 5 of 6 free throws. For Coleman, he simply heated up after a 1 of 6 start, while Stringer came off the bench to provide scoring punch. Hickey and Quarterman may have landed the knockout blows, but it was the veteran duo that helped LSU keep its lead toggling between five points and nine points. Steady. That’s what you need from your elders when the calendar rolls over to March. The Tigers’ fit the bill.

The Critiques

  • Shot selection: LSU has shown a tendency to fall in love with quick jumpers this season. Against USF, the Tigers were bigger across the front line and should have had a decided advantage on the glass. Neither transpired. It’s hard to win the rebound war, though, when your big men have to chase long misses outside their area. Or when your guards are small and can be muscled out if they win the race to a 50-50 ball. Plus, Johnny O’Bryant III can get you better looks by reading and reacting once the ball goes into the block. When you have a weapon the likes of JOBIII, and he has advantage, keep it simple.
  • Rebounding: LSU is fortunate it didn’t play Kentucky again. The Tigers were pummeled 15-8 on the offensive backboards, and they were fortunate the Dons only turned those second chances into nine points. A lot of those came in the first half to keep the Dons in contention and only down three points at half time.
  • Poor offensive execution late: The final five minutes for LSU will not be remembered fondly. Leading 66-55, the Tigers essentially wasted their next possessions to let the Dons trim to lead down to 68-62 on backdoor alley-oop to Mark Tollefsen with 2:18 to play. Jarell Martin turned the ball over. Jordan Mickey was called for a charge. Hickey committed a turnover. Mickey short-armed a jumper, and then came back on the next trip to clank a pair of free throws with 1:12 to play. Mercifully, Coleman and Stringer went 3 of 4 down the stretch to eliminate the drama, but the Tigers certainly should feel fortunate they weren’t facing an opponent more willing to cash in on the chances handed to them.

The Look-Ahead

Next up is SMU, which overcame its doldrums after missing the NCAA tournament to down UC-Irvine on Wednesday. Make no mistake, the Mustangs would be in the field of 68 if not for the nation’s No. 303 nonconference schedule and stumbling down the stretch against Memphis, Louisville and a first-round loss to Houston in the American Athletic Conference tournament. Coaching legend Larry Brown’s turnaround job has been swift at Moody Coliseum, and if the Tigers truly think they’re the caliber of team that  – under different circumstances — is a NCAA tournament team, they’ll get a good measuring stick on Monday night.

On the West Coast, LSU tries to take next step in development

LSU forward Jarell Martin and the Tigers would love to get into the open floor against San Franciso tonight at War Memorial Gymnasium. But what does a deep push into the NIT bracket mean down the line?

LSU forward Jarell Martin and the Tigers would love to get into the open floor against San Franciso tonight at War Memorial Gymnasium. But what does a deep push into the NIT bracket mean down the line?

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.)

The last time the Tigers' snagged a NIT victory was in 2002 against Iowa.

The last time the Tigers’ snagged a NIT victory was in 2002 against Iowa.

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.”

 

The Info

  • 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.

The Stats

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

LSU

Offense:

  • 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)

Defense:

  • 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)

San Francisco 

Offense:

  • 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)

Defense:

  • 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)

 The Breakdown

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.

San Francisco forward Cole Dickerson is a threat to step out from 3-point range, and he can also crash the defensive glass for the Dons.

San Francisco forward Cole Dickerson is a threat to step out from 3-point range, and he can also crash the defensive glass for the Dons.

  • 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.
The TIgers let Kentucky muscle them around in the paint. Tonight, the Tigers need to be the aggressors in the lane.

The TIgers let Kentucky muscle them around in the paint. Tonight, the Tigers need to be the aggressors in the lane.

  • 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.

The Players

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. 

LSU

  • 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.

San Francisco

  • 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.

The Line

KenPom Prediction: San Francisco 76, LSU 73 (38-percent confidence).

 

Jarell Martin says he’ll be back for sophomore season

AP FILE PHOTO -- LSU forward Jarell Martin tussles Kentucky forward Julius Randle during the SEC tournament. The Tigers freshman says he's coming back for a sophomore season.

AP FILE PHOTO — LSU forward Jarell Martin tussles Kentucky forward Julius Randle during the SEC tournament. The Tigers freshman says he’s coming back for a sophomore season.

Freshman forward Jarell Martin said Monday he will be return to LSU for his sophomore season.

“I have been thinking about it,” Martin said. “I decided I will comeback next year.”

The Baton Rouge native and former McDonald’s All-American said he reached the decision with relative ease after a debut campaign where he averaged 10.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game, landing on the SEC’s All-Freshman team last week. And he bounced back from a slow nonconference season, where a high-ankle sprain suffered 33 seconds into the season-opener hampered him.

He averaged just 8.0 points ahead of SEC play, a number he raised 11.5 points, which included two games where he scored a career-high 20 points.

“It wasn’t that tough for me,” Martin said. “Sitting out at the beginning of the season, I had a lot of pressure and expectations on me. I wasn’t really focused, wasn’t really mentally prepared going into some games.”

Martin is the first of a trio of Tigers to declare his intentions as it pertains to the NBA. Forward Johnny O’Bryant III said he will again weigh his options after his junior season ends.  On Friday night, freshman forward Jordan Mickey said he, too, will wait until the season concludes before exploring his options or seeking an evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee.

And the news was, well, news to LSU coach Johnny Jones.

“That would be exciting news,” Jones said. “That’s not something I really want him thinking about. But I can’t really come in and hold you guys up from asking about it.”

Yet, Martin seemed somewhat certain of his choice.

“Now I have my confidence back,” Martin said. “I know there are things I need to go out and work on with my game, from ball handling to my shooting ability.”

O’Bryant, Mickey land on All-SEC second team

LSU’s starting front court picked up another postseason honor Monday with the release of the AP All-SEC team.

Junior forward Johnny O’Bryant III and freshman Jordan Mickey landed on the second team, which was selected by the media. The full team is shown below.

O’Brynat was named an All-SEC pick by the league’s coaches last week for a second consecutive season.  The 6-8, 256-pound O’Bryant led the Tigers is scoring and rebounding with average of 15.5 points per game and 7.8 rebounds a game. O’Bryant, of Cleveland, Miss., is ranked ninth in the league in scoring and fourth in rebounds. His 25 career double-doubles is second among active players in the SEC.

Mickey, a 6-8, 220-pound native of Dallas, averaged 12.8 points and 7.9 rebounds during his first season in Baton Rouge. His 101 blocks this season were the first time a Tigers’ player has cleared that plateau since Shaquille O’Neal’s stint in the program nearly two decades ago. Last week, Mickey also landed on the SEC All-Freshman and All-Defensive teams.

Here is the full AP All-SEC team, with the letter ‘u’ recognizing unanimous selections:

FIRST TEAM

u-Julius Randle, Kentucky, F, 6-9, Fr.

u-Scottie Wilbekin, Florida, G, 6-2, Sr.

Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee, F, 6-8, Jr.

Casey Prather, Florida, F, 6-6, Sr.

Jabari Brown, Missouri, G, 6-5, Jr.

___

SECOND TEAM

Jordan McRae, Tennessee, F, 6-6, Sr.

Trevor Releford, Alabama, G, 6-0, Sr.

Johnny O’Bryant III, LSU, F, 6-9, Jr.

Patric Young, Florida, C, 6-9, Sr.

Jordan Mickey, LSU, F, 6-8, Fr.

___

HONORABLE MENTION

Chris Denson, Auburn, G, 6-2, 181, Sr.; Kenny Gaines, Georgia, G, 6-3, 195, So.; Marshall Henderson, Mississippi, G, 6-2, Sr.; Charles Mann, Georgia, G, 6-5, 210, So; Rod Odum, Vanderbilt, F, 6-9, Sr.; Jarvis Summers, Mississippi, G, 6-3, 186, Jr.; James Young, Kentucky, G-F, 6-6, 215, Fr.

___

PLAYER OF THE YEAR — Scottie Wilbekin, Florida

COACH OF THE YEAR — Billy Donovan, Florida

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR — u-Julius Randle, Kentucky

Judgment Day arrives for LSU in the NIT

With its position already tenuous, an upset down the road in New Orleans may have turned LSU’s chances to land in the NIT to dire.

Louisiana-Lafayette knocked off GeorgiaState to win the Sun Belt Conference tournament, sending the Panthers into the field of 32. The Cajuns’ upset only made a less-than-stellar week bleaker for the Tigers, who learn at 7:30 p.m. tonight whether they’ve missed the NIT for a second consecutive season.

Now, if you don’t check this space, or haven’t read the paper the past couple of days, I’ll boil it down: A slew of regular season champions from mid-major and low-major leagues were upset in conference tournaments, sending them tumbling into the NIT, where they are guaranteed berths. In total, 13 of those teams, the most since 2011, wound up landing slots.

The result is just 19 spots left over for at-large teams, usually power conference teams who finished in the middle of their respective standings. The trickle-down effect is the Tigers, a team some considered a potential NCAA tournament team in the preseason, may miss out on the postseason for a second-consecutive season.

The Southeastern Conference may bear the brunt of the damage, too. The league is considered the nation’s weakest power conference, and the middle of its standings were murky. Three weeks ago, seven teams were tied at 7-7, the best evidence I can conjure up to show just how little distinction can be made between one resume and the next.

So, LSU is at the mercy of the NCAA selection committee, whose decision to take either three or four SEC teams may affect whether there’s a NIT slot left to fill. Florida and Kentucky are locks, and Tennessee seemed to shore up its position, too. Yet, Georgia, Missouri and Arkansas all would seemingly be ahead of LSU in the NIT pecking order. If Arkansas, which was the No. 5 seed at the SEC tournament and upset by 13th-seeded South Carolina, can squeak into the field of 68, then LSU might be able to take their spot.

Still, here’s a quick run down of the SEC squads likely NIT-bound and their respective RPIs and strength of schedules.

  • Georgia: No. 75 RPI/No. 62 SOS
  • Missouri: No. 49/No. 67
  • Arkansas: No. 77/No. 95
  • LSU: No. 82/No. 77

Georgia’s third-place finish in the league and its combined 5-1 record against the other three NIT contenders from the SEC seems to assure them a spot. Missouri’s metrics appear to make them safe. Arkansas and LSU split their season series, so it might be a runoff between those two teams.

Meanwhile, a look at the past seven NIT fields offers ample disconcerting evidence. On average only 2.4 teams that finished with RPIs in the 80s got invites to the event. In 2011, the NIT had to dole out 14 automatic bids, while only three of the remaining 18 at-large berths went to teams in the 80s: Dayton (80), Ole Miss (No. 85) and Nebraska (No. 87).

Ahead of rubbermatch, Tigers pose problematic matchup for Kentucky

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ATLANTA – It’s impossible to know John Calipari’s mood around 9 p.m. last night.

The Kentucky coach didn’t make a media appearance ahead of the No. 2 seed Wildcats’ SEC tournament opener today at the Georgia Dome. Instead, he sent an emissary in assistant coach Orlando Antigua. Even then we only received a pool report of quotes.

Somehow, it was all very reminiscent of getting a communiqué from a closed off foreign regime. Or a blue-blood program trying smooth out its issues — namely defensive intensity — under a veil of secrecy.

Regardless, the bracket didn’t exactly offer Kentucky a gift. Instead, CoachCal’s crew gets No. 7 seed LSU, a team that put together one of its best outings of the season in dispatching No. 10 Alabama on Thursday.

You know, the one that reared back and walloped the Wildcats early in Baton Rouge on a night when ice coated the city and 3,500, uh, worked up students poured into the PMAC.  Or their rematch nearly a month ago at Rupp Arena, the one where LSU couldn’t cling to the leads it had in the final 90 seconds of overtime and regulation.

If not for the heroics of UK forward Julius Randle with 3.9 seconds left in overtime, the Tigers may have nabbed a sweep. Instead, they flew out of Lexington with a tough road setback.

In light of those events, Antigua was terse when asked about a third meeting.

“Another good game,” he said.  ”They’re playing really good basketball. Obviously shot the ball really well tonight, and I just think that we’re going to have another great challenge ahead of us.”

Granted LSU coach Johnny Jones also played diplomat in his post-game press conference — one that featured as many questions about the Tigers’ next game as the one they just finished against the Crimson Tide.

Q:  Kind of a best of three with UK. What do you think you guys have to do to win that series?

A: “They’re a very talented basketball team, and it will be a very hard-fought battle (Friday). We have to go and make sure that we’re probably going to play one of our better games all year. We’re going to have to execute at a high level offensively, beat at our best on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky will come in, and they will have an edge about themselves.”

OK, so there’s not a lot of insight to parse out.

But what about LSU guard Anthony Hickey, a native of the state and a three-star prospect that UK never recruited? Although, that story line has been mined, the former Mr. Basketball still doesn’t give away animus toward the in-state power.

“It’s just a great challenge playing the home team,” said Hickey, who dropped 20 points on the Wildcats in the last meeting. “When you see Kentucky, you always get amped up because it’s a big name.”

History, though, doesn’t favor the boys from Baton Rouge. LSU is just 1-15 all-time against Kentucky in SEC tournaments. Meanwhile, which lost its first game in the tournament last season, has never gone one-and-done in back-to-back years.

The Tigers have made it to the semifinals three times in the past decade, and the last time they reached the finals it was 1993. The opponent? Kentucky. The outcome? Try an 82-65 thumping inside Rupp Arena.

But today’s meeting carries big significance, in theory, for the Tigers. Sitting at No. 77 in the Ratings Percentage Index, a win might push that number into the low 60s, helping LSU’s chances at landing in the NIT.

In the afternoon session Thursday, fifth-seeded Arkansas flailed through a 71-69 loss to No. 13 seed South Carolina. On the heels of a 25-point rout in their season finale at Alabama, the Razorbacks likely slid off the NCAA tournament bubble and into the NIT.

Typically, the SEC doesn’t get more than three teams into the 32-team field. Right now, it’s safe to assume two of those slots belong to No. 3 Georgia and No. 8 Missouri, which during the writing of this blog was tangling with top-seeded Florida. If the Hogs are NIT bound, it might leave LSU on the stoop. (I detailed this yesterday a little bit, too.)

Asked about the Razorbacks loss and its impact on the Tigers, or the SEC bubble picture.

“You have to put that in the hands of the (NCAA selection) committee,” Jones said. “Hopefully, you’re playing well, and your body of work speaks for itself.”

If anything, beating Bama simply assured the Tigers don’t fall off the 5/6-seed cutline for the other postseason tournament. A win over UK, though, would give LSU as many wins over the ‘Cats as Arkansas, which swept UK. It would give them a higher RPI, too. Moreover, it puts the Tigers into a semifinal against somewhat favorable matchups with either sixth-seeded Ole Miss and Georgia.

The ramifications, however, are something the Tigers don’t want to broach, even if knocking off UK could put them on a trajectory toward trying to (improbably) sneak into the NCAA tournament. Or simply hold pat with the NIT.

“It was a four-game season, now it’s a three-game season,” forward Johnny O’Bryant III said. “Now it’s a three-game season. The NCAA tournament is something we’ll talk about after this over, hopefully. Our focus is on Kentucky, and we’re going to try and handle business tomorrow.”

The Info

  • When: 6 p.m. today.
  • Where: Georgia Dome, Atlanta.
  • Records: No. 7 LSU 19-12; No. 2 Kentucky (22-9)
  • TV: WBXH (Dave Neal, Jon Sunvold).
  • Series: Kentucky leads 94-35.
  • Last Meeting: Kentucky won 77-76 on Feb. 22, 2014, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.

The Stats

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

LSU

Offense:

  • Points Per Game: 75.3
  • FG %: 44.5
  • 3FG%: 34.0
  • FT%: 67.5
  • Rebounds Per Game: 39.9
  • Assists Per Game: 14.2
  • Turnovers Per Game: 13.8
  • Adjusted Efficiency: 109.3 (No. 84)
  • Adjusted Tempo: 70.2 (No. 31)
  • Avg. Poss. Length: 17.0 (No. 73)
  • Effective FG%: 50.0(No. 145)
  • Turnover %: 19.4 (No. 252)
  • Off. Reb %: 35.9 (No. 38)
  • FTA/FGA: 34.3 (No. 313)

Defense:

  • Points Allowed Per Game: 70.8
  • FG% D: 40.8
  • 3FG% D: 35.8
  • FT%: 71.0
  • Rebounds Allowed Per Game: 36.1
  • Rebound Margin: +3.8
  • Assists Allowed Per Game: 10.9
  • Turnovers Forced Per Game: 13.1
  • Adjusted Efficiency: 99.1 (No. 65)
  • Avg. Poss. Length: 17.1 (No. 39)
  • Effective FG% D: 46.0 (No. 49)
  • Turnover %: 18.4 (No. 173)
  • Off. Reb. %: 31.4 (No. 171)
  • FTA/FGA: 39.0 (No. 135)

Kentucky

Offense:

  • Points Per Game: 76.3
  • FG %: 45.2
  • 3FG%: 31.6
  • FT%: 68.4
  • Rebounds Per Game: 41.3
  • Assists Per Game: 11.5
  • Turnovers Per Game: 12.4
  • Adjusted Efficiency: 113.7 (No. 29)
  • Adjusted Tempo: 66.4 (No. 178)
  • Avg. Poss. Length: 17.3 (No. 104)
  • Effective FG%: 49.6 (No. 165)
  • Turnover %: 18.3 (No. 164)
  • Off. Reb %: 42.7 (No. 1)
  • FTA/FGA: 53.7 (No. 7)

Defense:

  • Points Allowed Per Game: 67.1
  • FG% D: 40.1
  • 3FG% D: 31.3
  • FT%: 69.8
  • Rebounds Allowed Per Game: 31.5
  • Rebound Margin: +9.8
  • Assists Allowed Per Game: 10.4
  • Turnovers Forced Per Game: 11.0
  • Adjusted Efficiency: 96.6 (No. 43)
  • Avg. Poss. Length:  18.4 (No. 256)
  • Effective FG% D: 44.7 (No. 20)
  • Turnover %: 16.2 (No. 302)
  • Off. Reb. %: 30.5 (No. 126)
  • FTA/FGA: 37.0 (No. 101)

 The Breakdown

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.

  • Protect the lane: LSU and Kentucky haven’t exactly locked down on each other in their two prior meetings. LSU is averaging 81.5 points and shooting 45.4 percent. Meanwhile, the Wildcats are posting 79.5 points and hitting at 42.9-percent clip. In Lexington, gave up a lone 3-pointer as Kentucky had its worst days of the season from behind the arc. Not that it mattered. The Wildcats were hell-bent on attacking the paint. They scored 50 points inside, including 24 on second-chance points. The commonly held logic is LSU’s front line of O’Bryant III, Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin — all taller than 6-foot-8 — can match the size of Kentucky man for man.  And to a degree, they’re right. Julius Randle averages just 7.0 points and shoots just 31.6 percent against LSU. But the paint production comes instead from UK’s bigger guards — all taller than 6-foot-6 — blowing by the Tigers’ smaller combo of Anthony Hickey and Andre Stringer, or exploiting the poor footwork and positioning of Martin. To wit: James Young has averaged 21.5 points. Aaron Harrison has posted 17.5 points, too. LSU only allows 29.5 points per game in the paint, while only allowing nine teams to score more than the 33.5 points LSU tends to notch. All of those teams had big guards that exploited on-ball screens and a poor job by LSU navigating screens. Last night, LSU switched more and it’s big men hedged harder to keep Bama’s Trevor Releford from getting downhill and putting pressure on low-post defenders to rotate. Still, Releford’s 2-of-11 shooting performance still saw him get to the line seven times. So, the question is whether the Tigers can carry over the success from Thursday and avoid giving up high-percentage shots.
  • Stretch UK’s comfort Zone: Ahead of their game at Rupp, UK had employed some zone looks, much to chagrin of a man-to-man devotee, in Calipari. Similar to LSU, the zone is as much an effort to cover for lapses in focus, poor positioning, or slow close outs than it has to do with maximizing length to clog up passing lanes or clutter up the low block. The antidote is readily available — knock down 3-pointers, make the Wildcats pay some sort of toll for trying to send fast double teams toward O’Bryant or shut down Mickey’s best operating spot near the elbow. “The 3 obviously can be a really big game changer,” Antigua said. “We’re going to have to try to see if we can use our length to make it a little more difficult for them so they’re not as comfortable.” The Tigers have done that twice, knocking down 40.0 percent of their attempts from deep against Kentucky. Hickey and Andre Stringer have combined to hit 10 of 21 attempts, too. If they can’t drive the lane and play in traffic, filling up the scoring column from 3-point shooting is an equalizer.
  • Lively minds, dead legs? As I pointed out yesterday, LSU’s rotation is down to roughly seven players. Nine saw action last night, but John Odo and Darcy Malone each only chipped in a minute. Four starters went at least 32 minutes, while O’Bryant logged 27 for the Tigers. UK, despite its widely-touted “best recruiting class ever,” only counters with a seven-man rotation of its own. Moreover, LSU hung with the Cats minus an injured Malik Morgan and absent Tim Quarterman, who didn’t travel to Lexington in order to attend a funeral. The Tigers’ nearly won with only two scholarship guards. But now LSU has to turn around in 22 hours to play against another fresh team, and one in UK that might be looking to build some momentum heading into the NCAA tournament. Yet the win over Bama wasn’t one played in the open floor. KenPom.com estimated there were just 59 possessions per team — roughly 11 below the Tigers’ average each game. Still, in this setting you can’t ignore fatigue, and we’ll see whether LSU has enough for a third go-around with the Wildcats.

The Players

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. 

LSU

  • G Anthony Hickey, Jr., 5-11, 185 pounds: Hickey is always quick to say he has no ill will toward Big Blue. His stat-line, though, says otherwise. He’s averaged 12.2 points and 4.2 assists in five career games against the Wildcats, but those have jumped to 15.5 and 7.0, respectively, this season. The Hopkinsville, Ky., native now has the UK staff answering for why they didn’t extend a scholarship offer. “Didn’t take a look at him as much because of our scholarship situation,” Antigua said.  ”But I know he’s done an incredible job there at LSU. I would imagine that he would be

excited to play us again.” That’s a safe bet. On this stage, Hickey would love to send the Wildcats’ packing. Yet he’s channeled that energy productively. Can he do it again?

Kentucky

  • F Julius Randle, 6-9, 250 pounds: You’d like to think, just based on the law of averages, that the SEC’s Freshman of the Year will bust his slump against LSU. Still, Randle’s been somewhat pedestrian in SEC play. If you look at his past 12 games, Randle is only averaging 11.6 points per game. OK, strip out the poor outings against LSU. It only climbs a smidgen to 12.8 points per game. His rebounding totals, though, haven’t dropped off and he’s still drawing 6.7 fouls per game. A breakout night, combined with UK guards slashing into gaps could doom LSU in this one.

The Line

KenPom Prediction: Kentucky 76, LSU 71 (68-percent confidence).

Needing to shore up NIT status, LSU tangles with the Tide

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.

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 KentuckyArkansas 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.”

 

The Info

  • 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.

The Stats

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

LSU

Offense:

  • 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)

Defense:

  • 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)

Alabama

Offense:

  • 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)

Defense:

  • 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)

 The Breakdown

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.

The Players

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. 

LSU

  • 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.

Alabama

  • 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.

The Line

KenPom Prediction: LSU 70, Alabama 69 (57-percent confidence).