The Advocate Blog Network

Search
Banner image

A way too early look ahead in the SEC

So that usual mass exodus that rolls around every April from Lexington?

Or how Kentucky coach John Calipari just imports another slew of highly-touted recruits to represent Big Blue Nation for a lone season before heading off to cash their own NBA paychecks.

Well, what happens if those guy stick around. And then another crop of McDonald’s All-Americans drops off their bags?

After taking a flogging for simply feeding the one-and-done machine, Calipari can smirk today. ‘Cause the gang that tore off a run to the national title game after being left for dead in at the start of March is back.

The twins of Andrew and Aaron Harrison? Sticking around, per Yahoo! reporter Adrian Wojnarowski. The guards also join big men Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress — yes, UK will have two seasoned juniors on the roster — and rising sophomore Dakari Johnson.

Oh, and four top-30 prospects will fill in the ranks, giving the Wildcats roster nine members who have played in a high school all-star game sponsored by America’s preeminent fast-food chain.

So, pure snark alone, here’s one scribe’s prediction for the SEC race next season: Kentucky and then everybody else.

Obviously, recruiting is still unfolding — the spring signing period ends in May — and there can always be transfers. Plus, Missouri is in the midst of a coaching search. Caveats aside, I’ll take a stab at my initial pecking order.

1. Kentucky: So, Julius Randle is gone, but the nation’s best team on the offensive backboards should be loaded in front court again. To wit: Cauley-Stein is an able rim protector. Poythress can play inside-out. Johnson, who had modest numbers, projects to a guy capable of 14.7 points and 11.2 rebounds in 40 minutes. Add in elite freshman KarlTowns and Trey Lyles, too. The result is six players taller than 6-8, five of whom were top-40 recruits. If Andrew Harrison’s rapid improvement during the NCAA tournament continues, there’s talent, brawn and experience to make the league’s other coaches shudder at the top choice to open the season atop the polls.

2. Florida: The loss of seniors Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC player of the year, Casey Prather, Patric Young and Will Yeguete smarts. The Gators, the first team to go undefeated in conference play, lose 61.2 percent of their scoring, 52.9 percent of their rebounding and 52.7 percent of their minutes. But coach Billy Donovan isn’t facing a barren roster. Point guard Kasey Hill, a McDonald’s All-American nicked up last season, will take Wilbekin’s mantle as a sophomore. Forward Chris Walker missed half the season as the NCAA looked into academic eligibility. He only averaged 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds, but he was still considered a potential first round talent as a freshman, and Dorian Finney-Smith (8.7 points and 6.7 rebounds) remains in the fold. Guard Michael Frazier, a 44.7 percent three-point shooter, is a senior, too. That’s a decent core to build around with the nation’s No. 11 recruiting class arriving.

3. Arkansas: Coach Mike Anderson’s track record tends to peg his fourth year as a breakthrough. The Razorbacks have the pieces, on first glance, to contend. Freshman All-SEC forward Bobby Portis, who averaged 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds, stuck around. Alandise Harris (9.3 ppg, 3.3 rebounds) is a senior presence. Rashad Madden, who averaged 12.7 points and shot 40.0 percent behind the arc, can stretch defenses. Michael Qualls, who is adept at getting to the rim, rounds out a solid nucleus. By now, Anderson has his players in place and adequate depth to handle his preferred up-tempo pace, and the Hogs appeared to have shed their reputation for floundering on the road. An upset to South Carolina in the SEC tournament cost them a NCAA tournament bid, but expectations should be higher next season on The Hill.

4. Georgia: Nobody expected the Bulldogs’ third-place finish last season, but coach Mark Fox’s team won’t creep up on the conference this season. Bringing back their top five scorers helps. That includes the guard duo of juniors Charles Mann (13.9 ppg, 2.9 apg) slashing to lane and Kenny Gaines (13.0 ppg, 37.5 percent from 3-point range) launching from long range. Junior Brandon Morris and senior Marcus Thornton can pair up inside, while Nemanja Djurisic is a good floor spacer and able to knock down perimeter shots. Reserves Juwan Parker, J.J. Frazier and Cameron Forte give Fox a nice rotation to work with. More importantly, no team was better defensively, based on KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency figures, outside of Florida and Tennessee than UGA. The takeaway: There’s experience, reliable scoring and ability to defend that can still improve. Maybe Georgia did, indeed, play over their heads. For now, though, I’ll keep them in the mix.

5. LSU: On paper, the Tigers might have more talent than Arkansas or Georgia. But they did last season, too, and still finished seventh. So it’s hard to put them ahead of two teams who extracted more from their rosters and bring back most of their pieces. Still. The loss of back-to-back All-SEC forward Johnny O’Bryant III to the NBA was expected. Keeping the SEC All-Freshmen tandem of Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin, though, is a coup for coach Johnny Jones. Add in 7-footer Elbert Robinson, the No. 56 prospect in this year’s class, and LSU’s front court could be formidable.  Point guard Anthony Hickey’s steal numbers dipped after he was asked to take less risks, but he averaged 4.0 assists per game with a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio after SEC play arrived. But Jones hopes UNC-Asheville transfer Keith Hornsby and four-star JUCO prospect Josh Gray, who averaged a whopping 33.8 points per game at Odessa college, can add size and scoring punch on the wing. The Tigers have to shed one scholarship player, but the bench should allow Jones to go eight or nine deep. After a NIT berth this season, expectations are for a NCAA tournament trip.

6. Alabama:  They lose leading scorer Trevor Releford. Fair point. But the Tide bring back every there other five top scorers, led by rising senior Levi Randolph. There’s also guard Retin Obasohan, who showed streaky scoring ability, while 1.8 steals per game and 4.0 steal percentage hint at potential defensive prowess. If not Obasohan, then Rodney Cooper, whose only slightly more efficient offensively, will have to step forward. Inside, rising sophomore Shannon Hale is back, and he can be a sneaky pick-and-pop threat on the perimeter in shooting 35.2 percent behind the arc. Forward Nick Jacobs, the Tide’s best rebounder is also in the fold. Alabama also gets the services Tulane transfer Ricky Tarrant, who put up 15.7 points per game before leaving the Green Wave. Coach Anthony Grant put a premium on finding shooters in the nation’s No. 27 recruiting class, which features three Rivals top-150 prospects, led by four-star point guard Justin Coleman. Here’s betting Grant’s team — consistently among the top three in the SEC for defensive efficiency — does a course correction on that end of the floor after finishing seventh in points allowed and 10th in field-goal percentage defense.

7. Ole Miss: Again, a SEC program losing its leading scorer. But guard Marshall Henderson was a volume shooter, needing 14.8 shots per game to score 19.0 points. And 77.4 percent of his attempts were 3-pointers, a penchant that could throw off the offense as much as help. Yet the Rebels get back Jarvis Summers, who averaged 17.3 points and 3.8 assists per game. Summers defines efficient: A 59.4 true shooting percentage and 1.45 points per shot. Rising senior LaDarius White has nice size at 6-6, 211 pounds, but has to get more efficient offensively after sporting a 47.0 true shooting percentage, per KenPom.com. Coach Andy Kennedy, though, hit the transfer market to find wing scoring, notably Tennessee-Martin guard Terrence Smith, who averaged 14.6 points and was third in the OhioValley with a 43.4 three-point field goal percentage. Kennedy also went back to South Plains (Texas) Junior College for guard Roderick Lawrence, whom Kennedy deemed a slashing threat on the perimeter. Ole Miss needs more from its big men, but the Rebels have fewer roster questions to address than their peers.

8. South Carolina: Last season, the Gamecocks’ youth was too much. Five of their top seven players in minutes were underclassmen, while dual-sport star Bruce Ellington — a steadying presence and scoring option — elected to enter the NFL draft. Still, coach Frank Martin’s team bounced back from a 8-15 start to go 5-5 down the stretch, which included reaching the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament. The group took its lumps, but there’s talent. Namely, SEC All-Freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell, who averaged 13.4 points despite shooting only 38.6 percent. Thornwell is a four-star in-state product, who was joined by fellow four-star center Demetrius Henry. In this class, Martin didn’t have to leave Columbia to find four-star point guard Marcus Stroman. Entering his third season, Martin has managed to upgrade the talent level, and he’s got the coaching acumen to maximize its gifts.  But Henry, center Mindaugas Kacinas and undersized forward Michael Carerra need to be reliable. Fellow guards Duane Notice and Tyrone Johnson, who combined to average around 20 points per game last season,  return, too. Putting them here might be a reach, but every investment portfolio needs a little risk.

9. Vanderbilt:  The story is well-worn by now. Defections and disciplinary moves left coach Kevin Stallings with seven scholarship players, a reality that left the Commodores tottering and stumbling to the finish line last season. Veteran stalwarts in point guard Kyle Fuller and stretch forward Rod Odom have moved on. But help is coming. Maybe. That is if guard Kedren Johnson, who was suspended last season following “very poor judgment” returns. Freshman center Damian Jones, who averaged 11.3 points and 5.7 rebounds, should get more pub and is nice asset. Rising seniors Dai-Jon Parker (8.3 ppg, 2.1 apg) and James Siakam (7.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg) also saw heavy minutes. Matters are murky from there. Reserves Luke Kornet and Shelby moats are sure to see more minutes, but Vandy’s recruiting class features four-star guard Wade Baldwin. The wild card: Cornell transfer Nolan Cressler, who is eligible immediately after ranking fourth in the Ivy League with 16.8 points per game. I hate to doubt Stallings, and I won’t be surprised if they finish higher.

10. Texas A&M: There were two utter certainties with the Aggies last season: They could defend, but scoring was akin to putting a fifth-grader in a calculus glass. Heck, coach Billy Kennedy admitted the SEC’s worst offensive team needed shooting practice. Everybody of consequence is back, led by guard Jamal Jones (13.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and forward Kourtney Roberson (9.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg), and regulars such as guard Alex Caruso. Antwan Space transferred, but he was only a nominal member of the rotation. But the biggest addition is SMU transfer Jalen Jones, who is a bigger guard at 6-7, 220-pounds. He averaged 14.0 points and 7.7 rebounds for the Mustangs, and paired with Jones, who stands 6-7, Texas A&M will have some size and length on the wings. Plus, Kennedy and his bench coach parted ways this offseason, and maybe a change of approach — although, A&M will still grind out games — offensively can spur improvement.

11. Tennessee: The good vibes have dulled since a Sweet 16 run in March. Coach Cuonzo Martin bailed for the West Coast and Cal, skipping out a fanbase that never warmed to him and even petitioned for his ouster this season.  Jarnell Stokes jumped to the NBA, while staples in Jordan McCrae, Jeronne Maymon and Antonio Barton ran out of eligibility. So, here you go Donnie Tyndall, who came from Southern Miss this week with a rep for rebuilding. Yet all four members of the Volunteers signing class were granted releases from the letters of intent to weigh options moving ahead. If those defections stand up, Tyndall has a three-week window to plug the gap. On the bright side, the back court might feature a nice trio. Five-star recruit Robert Hubbs, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, is back. Junior Josh Richardson averaged 10.3 points per game last season and could fill the void to a degree left by McCray. Rising sophomore Darius Thompson will have to prove a capable third leg of the tripod. Front-court depth, however, is a looming concern. We’ll get a good gauge early of just how quickly Tyndall can work any magic.

12. Auburn: Hiring Bruce Pearl has certainly generated buzz, and there’s no doubt Athletic Director Jay Jacobs made a step up over Tony Barbee. The roster, though, won’t let Pearl imitate the one-year turnaround orchestrated by football counterpart Gus Malzahn. The Tigers get back guard KT Harrell, who ranked sixth in the SEC at 18.3 points per game and sank 36.1 percent of his 3-pointers. Leading scorer Chris Denson is gone, and their only reliable players inside with Asauhn Dixon-Tatum and Allen Payne. Granted, Cinmeon Bowers, who is 6-7, 261, will show up as the nation’s No. 1 JUCO power forward. Meanwhile, Pearl is waiting word whether Marshall transfer Kareem Canty (16.3 ppg) will commit and be eligible immediately under the graduate-transfer exemption.

13. Missouri: There’s a reason Frank Haith skipped town for the security of a seven-year deal at Tulsa. The Tigers are in triage. Guards Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson defected to the NBA draft, while Earnest Ross exhausted eligibility. In total, 70.5 percent of Missouri’s scoring won’t be back. Even with that collection of talent, MU still finished ninth in the conference.  And the replacements? Well, highly-touted freshman Jonathan Williams III did average 5.8 points. In reality, Mizzou’s front court never provided help last season. Williams wasn’t ready for heavy minutes. Ryan Rosburg nobly tried as a glorified reserve. Meanwhile, Louisiville transfer Zach Price, who was supposed to help fix the problem, got booted after getting arrested twice by Columbia police in the same day this month. Freshman point guard Wes Clark foundered, too. Now Mike Alden is on his fourth coaching search in 15 years, while a pair of four-star recruits in shooting guard Namon Wright and power forward Jakeenan Gant wait to see who he hires. All total, the situation doesn’t look promising for the man Alden picks.

14. MississippiState: Rick Ray is trying. The Bulldogs coach has guard Craig Sword and a serviceable forward in Gavin Ware. Guard Trivante Bloodman and reserve big man Roquez Johnson try to fill in, but the collection of talent in Starkville hasn’t improved dramatically. A quartet of three-star players will arrive to join the ranks, but it’s hard to see Year 3 of the Ray era unfolding much differently than the first, considering State may just now be addressing depth issues that have left the coach little trouble but to play everybody.

 

 

 

Mickey’s NBA decision may come ‘later this week,’ father says

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD -- LSU's Jordan Mickey shoots over Arkansas' Moses Kingsley during the game between LSU and Arkansas this season at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELD — LSU’s Jordan Mickey dunks over Arkansas’ Moses Kingsley during the game between LSU and Arkansas this season at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge.

Six days are left until the NBA’s deadline to declare for the draft, and Jordan Mickey will probably use as many of them as he can.

Or at least that’s the plan laid out by the LSU forward’s father.

“We’ll probably make a decision by the end of the week,” James Wright told The Advocate early Monday evening in a phone interview.

As I wrote last week, Mickey’s decision is pretty simple: If he elects to put his name into the pool of underclassmen declaring for the draft, there’s no turning back. The NCAA’s deadline to “withdraw” from the draft came and went on April 15, meaning any declarations made afterward cut off the path of returning to school.

Wright and his son have tried to keep a tight lid on speculation surrounding his decision. On April 9, Wright was in town to watch his older son and Mickey’s step-brother in James Wright Jr., who is a former LSU wide receiver, audition before NFL scouts at the Tigers’ Pro Day. Yet, there was no sit-down with LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones, either. Mickey has already had his planned postseason session with Jones, and then took a trip for spring break, Wright said.

Any communications between Wright and Jones have been handled over the phone.

“I’ve spoke with him several times,” Wright said. “I just told Coach Jones that we’re trying to get the best information and take the best approach for our family.”

Yet Wright also said he plans to take a trip to Baton Rouge “around the middle, to later this week” for a face-to-face chat Jones. After that meeting, a decision about Mickey’s future in Baton Rouge may be handed down.

Mickey’s choice is a linchpin in some ways.

With Johnny O’Bryant III off to the professional ranks, Mickey’s 12.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game — numbers that landed him on the SEC’s All-Freshmen team — represent the most consistent wellspring of production inside. Even if Mickey wasn’t the chief threat — it’s been repeated that no designed plays were run for him — he is still the logical choice to take up the mantle.  Put another way, LSU’s depth in the lane would swing back to the other end of the pendulum.  Fellow freshman Jarell Martin has said he’ll return, and all indications are there are no surprises in store. Yet, Martin’s size, standing 6-9, 241 pounds, is coupled with athleticism that lets him play on the wing. If Mickey departs, Martin may have to move inside, and incoming freshman Elbert Robinson, will face pressure to acclimate quickly.

Also, if Mickey stays, it will leave LSU one over the NCAA-mandated allotment of 13 scholarships, meaning the Tigers would potentially having to shave shed one member  from their ranks. If he goes, then the Tigers roster, in theory, would not have to undergone further alterations. Or, at the very least, any changes may not solely come down to a decision by Jones.

Mickey slid out of ESPN analyst Chad Ford’s ranking of the top 100 prospects after sitting at No. 80. DraftExpress.com, however, has the 6-8, 220-pound Mickey slotted at No. 55 in its ratings, and only seven spots behind O’Bryant. He’s also moved up three spots to No. 14 in the site’s ranking of freshmen. Neither site has him projected to be selected in the draft’s two rounds.

So to repeat: The wait will continue a couple more days.

“We really have tried to downplay all of this,” Wright said. “It’s not like we’re trying to do this to generate extra attention. Right now, it’s just one of those things where we want to make sure we do everything in the best interest of our family.”

Mickey lets NCAA deadline pass without declaring for NBA draft

AP Photo -- LSU forward Jordan Mickey did not announce Tuesday whether he would be declaring for the NBA draft, letting the NCAA deadline to withdraw pass. If the TIgers' big man declares before the NBA's own April 27 deadline, then he can't turn back and return to Baton Rouge.

AP Photo — LSU forward Jordan Mickey did not announce Tuesday whether he would be declaring for the NBA draft, letting the NCAA deadline to withdraw pass. If the Tigers’ big man declares before the NBA’s own April 27 deadline, then he can’t turn back and return to Baton Rouge.

No e-mails arrived announcing Jordan Mickey’s departure.

Nor were there any press conferences called.

Nope, Tuesday passed without LSU’s freshman forward, who earned SEC All-Freshman and All-Defense team honors this season, declaring whether he would be back in Baton Rouge or put his name into the mixer for the NBA draft.

Granted, April 15 is an artificial deadline.

The NCAA set that date as the “withdrawal” deadline for underclassmen to pull their name out of the pool for the draft. That day happens to come one day before the spring period for signing recruits to letters of intent opens up. In essence, the NCAA protects coaches by ensuring that they have an idea of whether there is an open scholarship they can fill during the window that runs until May 21.

The official deadline set by the NBA is April 27, and the ramifications now are binary: If Mickey submits paperwork, he’s gone. There’s no turning back. Getting a read on the forward’s intentions has been hard. Repeatedly, he’s answered questions by saying he’ll sit down and consult with his family and try to seek opinions about his stock. Presumably, that means getting a formal evaluation from the league’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee, a 20-person panel of NBA front office and scouting personnel that submits its opinion to players mulling whether to enter the draft.

There are not many leaks or hints coming our way right now. What we do know is that if Mickey sought an evaluation from the NBA, it needed to be returned to him by Monday. In theory, that would leave him 24 hours to make a decision — if he was adhering to the NCAA’s self-serving timeline. Stripping away the April 15 deadline, however, would leave Mickey until just before midnight on April 27 — almost two weeks — to make up his mind. Mickey’s parents were in town last week, though, for LSU’s Pro Day on April 9, where his older brother James Wright worked out for scouts. On the day Johnny O’Bryant III declared for the draft, Mickey said his family would probably meet with LSU coach Johnny Jones. If that meeting took place, then it would seem Mickey has the following in hand:

  • A conservative valuation of his professional stock.
  • An in-person meeting with his coach about his options and place in the program.
  • Two weeks to decide where he might be slotted among the 27 underclassmen that have already declared.

Meanwhile, Mickey’s rated as the No. 80 prospect in this year’s crop by ESPN analyst Chad Ford. DraftExpress.com has the 6-8, 220-pound Mickey slotted at No. 60 in its ratings, and the site has him as the No. 17 freshman in this year’s class between Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison and his twin brother Andrew. Neither site has him going off the board in the draft’s two rounds either. As a reference, is projected as a pick in the middle of the second round. The question about Mickey may be whether he can play multiple positions, and, if not, whether he’s got the frame and offensive skill set to be a player that can thrive solely in the low block.

Mickey’s athleticism as a help side defender and on the glass is clear, but the offense at LSU rarely routed possessions directly to him. More specifically, a possession ended with him 19.8 percent of the time — roughly in line with Jarell Martin and Andre Stringer — and he only attempted a shot on 19.4 percent of the Tigers shots when on the floor. Now, Mickey did shoot 76.8 percent at the rim (96 of 125) this season, according to data from hoop-math.com, and corralled 37 stickbacks. But that was with O’Bryant drawing plenty of double teams and guards digging at the ball after sagging off the wing. If Mickey came back to Baton Rouge and existed as the main conduit inside as a sophomore, building on 12.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, his stock might appreciate more this time a year from now.

Instead of going undrafted, Draft Express has Mickey as the No. 36 pick — or the sixth player taken in the second round — in the 2015 NBA draft.

But for now, the wait continues.

Emptying the Notebook: Changes afoot around the PMAC?

Taking a cue from forward Johnny O’Bryant III’s (not-so) big reveal Tuesday, LSU coach Johnny Jones’ season wrap-up presser raised as many questions as it was designed to answer?

Right now, the Tigers would be one over the scholarship limit? Who goes?

Will there be any changes to the coaching staff?

Is Anthony Hickey, the lone true senior on the roster, really the leader the Tigers need?

Just where does Jordan Mickey stand on coming back to Baton Rouge?

No, today doesn’t exactly send the program into Jones’ third season at the helm on quiet terms. The next six weeks have the potential to bring more rumblings after a 20-14 season that raised question about whether LSU — picked fourth in the Southeastern Conference during the preseason — underachieved or made an incremental step forward with a NIT trip.

“We won nine games in conference last year, we won nine this year,” Jones said. “Was it a different nine that we won because of the challenge we had in front of us and the caliber teams that we were playing?”

Next came the usual bullet points:

  • “I want to be in the top tier in this conference.”
  • “My goal is to hopefully be in one of those (NCAA Final Four) games this coming weekend.”

Yet Jones framed the Tigers’ campaign, one that ended with an 80-67 blitzing at the hands of SMU last week, as part of a rebuild. No, Jones doesn’t throw that term around. But he implied it Tuesday.

“I realize where this program was three years prior to me having an opportunity for me to take over,” Jones said. “Sometimes, anything short of those things, you feel like there is always more out there for you. But when you understand what you have, exactly where you are and what you are trying to build to, you have to understand when you are making progress. You have to understand that, trust in that and know where you are going.”

True.

But who will be the hands rowing the boat for LSU? Or the people helping Jones steer it toward the direction the fan base wants?

Now, on to the notes.

  • It sounds like freshman Brian Bridgewater will be a part of the mix next season. The Scotlandville product sat out this season after getting snared in the NCAA Clearinghouse after a credit recovery course — one approved by the big house in Indianapolis — actually turned out not to be up to snuff. In meeting halfway, the 6-foot-6, 230-pound prospect was allowed to be on scholarship but could not practice or play. Logically, you could make a case shedding Bridgewater is an easy way to get back down to the maximum 13 scholarships. Not happening, per Jones. “Brian is one of those guys – our expectations of him from a year ago to possibly give us some leeway or depth in terms of being able to play the four [power forward] and three spot [small forward] because of his size, strength and athleticism,” Jones said.
  • Or LSU might wind up at the other end of the spectrum in terms of outcomes: Losing Mickey, who is a SEC All-Freshman team member, to the NBA draft. Not that Mickey is revealing his intentions. The line has been the same at the SEC tournament, NIT and Tuesday. He’s waiting for feedback from the NBA and consulting with his parents. Presumably, the Mickey clan will meet with Jones next week after his evaluation from the NBA Undergraduate committee arrives.  ”We want to make sure that he has an opportunity to process everything and make the right decision that’s going to be best for him and his family at the end of the day,” Jones said. “I’m for certain that he will be able to do that at the proper time.” Stay tuned.
  • OK, so if Bridgewater and Mickey both stay, then the Tigers need to prune a man from the roster. Is it sophomore Shane Hammink, who has averaged just 1.6 points and 1.4 rebounds in 8.6 minutes per game during his career? Even after Malik Morgan went down with a torn patellar tendon, Hammink didn’t see his minutes jump. Maybe freshman Tim Quarterman? Four-star pedigree aside, the point guard only started the season’s first three games, shot just 26.4 percent and led the Tigers with a 25.5 turnover percentage. Were those growing pains? Or were they signs of a recruiting miss? It’s interesting to note that Jones didn’t drop Quarterman’s name when talking about key pieces of the Tigers’ back court next season. Jones wasn’t tipping his hand, but said decisions may have to be made “near the end of the semester,” which arrives May 16.  ”We’ll have a closer idea of what should transpire there in terms of meeting and what’s best for maybe some of the other guys in the program and their future what they need to do,” Jones said. “But there hasn’t been any decisions made as of yet.”
  •  Asked whether the Tigers are still shopping for members of the Class of 2014, Jones said it never stops. “Yeah, we are still active because you never know,” he said. “I think it’s real important that you be proactive in terms of recruiting and then put yourself in a position that something should happen, that you’re prepared and you’re ready.”
  • At points this season, there have been grumblings about how Jones and his staff have handled in-game adjustments, particularly given the Tigers struggles at times on the defensive end of the floor. David Patrick works with the Tigers’ guards and has deep recruiting connections in-state (he’s a Louisiana-Lafayette alum and former NichollsState assistant) and to his native Australia. The chief benefit of the latter was securing the commitment of Ben Simmons, a small forward from Florida’s MontverdeAcademy and the No. 5 overall prospect in the 2015 recruiting class. Korey McCray is just wrapping down his first season in Baton Rouge. The former head of the elite grassroots hoops program in the Atlanta Celtics, McCray is short on experience at the college level, but brings a wealth of recruiting connections. Then there is Charlie Leonard, who joined Jones’ staff at Memphis when he was appointed the interim after Tic Price’s in-season firing in 1999. Again, Jones didn’t get into specifics, but his response to a question about potential staff changes should pique interest. ”It’s about like those players,” Jones said. “You just never know. Things are always up for change. So, that’s something may play itself out as well. It’s one of those situations that you just never know from year in and year out. We feel that we have a capable staff assembled.”
  • By now, the cycle is clear: Point guard Anthony Hickey winds up in Johnny Jones’ dog house. He pays penance. This season it was not starting the first three games of the season. The transgressions are nothing major. But the pause that lasted six seconds when Jones was asked whether Hickey would inherit the chief leadership role next season spoke volumes. And the normally measured Jones then laid out about a blunt a statement as he could muster. “Not sure,” he said. “We’ll have to see. You know, that’s possible, hopefully. Maybe another year. He’s a senior, and it may be something that could possibly happen. But it’s been for him for three for him to assume that role. So it’s tough to assume it will happen that way.” Ouch. Again, Jones normally skews toward the positive in his publicly expressed sentiments. This time, he didn’t hold back. What the implications are, though, remain to be seen.

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?

IMG_2180[1]

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.”