Bowers’ return changes dynamic for Mizzou vs. LSU

Click here for audio: Missouri coah Frank Haith talks LSU

Laurence Bowers could only slam his palms together after plopping down in a folding chair on theMissouribench late in a victory againstAlabama.

With roughly four minutes left on Jan.8, the forward’s right knee crumpled after point guard Phil Pressey landed on it beneath the Missouri basket, leaving the Tigers’ senior forward and leading scorer with a right MCL sprain.

Expected to miss only two games, Bowers, who averages roughly 17 points and 7 rebounds per game, has sat out the past five for No. 17 MU (15-4, 4-2 SEC), which visits LSU (10-7, 1-5) at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the PMAC.

Bowers’ absence was also clearly felt, depriving the Tigers of their best low-post scoring option, shifting the onus in the process to senior Connecticut transfer Alex Oriahki. Without Bowers, MU’s offense sputtered four days later in a 15-point loss at Ole Miss, and a week later when then-No. 10Floridatrounced the Tigers in an 83-52 victory inGainesville.

On Monday, coach Frank Haith told the MU press corps his team is poised to potentially get Bowers back in some form on Wednesday. Yet Haith, in his second season at the helm in Columbia, put a caveat in place: Any decision is based on how Bowers handles going full tilt in practice.

“It’s going to come down to my confidence and seeing him take a hit,” Haith said. “He’ll practice the next two days and see how his reaction is getting back out there to see if he’ll be able to play Wednesday.”

If Bowers is able to go, it will add a key match-up in the lane, presumably, against LSU forward Johnny O’Bryant, who has seemingly regained form after being slowed this season by a left calf strain and a high right ankle sprain. O’Bryant has averaged 17 points and 12 rebounds his past three games after a slow start in SEC play.

And it will present a tweaked challenge to LSU, coach Johnny Jones said Monday.

“He’s inside-outside, can play both so he gives them a different dimension that they don’t have right now on a consistent basis and something that they look to,” Jones said of Bowers. “He’s a very important piece to their team.”

Of course, grappling a knee injury is not new for Bowers, who missed last season with a torn ACL in his left knee. It left Missouri relying on a four-guard line-up, with now-graduated big man Ricardo Ratliffe working inside.

Yet, the set-up worked, with MU rolling to a 30-5 season and a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament before being bounced by No.15-seeded Norfolk(Va.) State in the first round.

But what made the experiment work for Missouri last season was four of its guards each carried at least two years of experience, paced by seniors Marcus Denmon and Kim English and junior Michael Dixon.

Those three upperclassmen rated between No. 15 and No. 68 nationally in offensive efficiency, while Ratliffe led the nation in true shooting percentage — which accounts for the extra value of a 3-pointer — at 69.3 percent, according to kenpom.com.

Oh, and there was the orchestration efforts of then-sophomore point guard Phil Pressey.

In other words, MU, which ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency, compensated ably without Bowers with its chemistry and experience in the backcourt.

But this season, Haith has imported four transfers — former Auburn guard Earnest Ross, former Pepperdine scorer Keion Bell,Oregon guard Jabari Brown and Oriahki — toColumbiato fill the void. A talented core? Yes. However, it’s been an exercise in trying to formulate chemistry — a challenge that was suppose to be eased by having a veteran in Pressey running the show and Bowers inside.

Now,Missouristill ranks No. 25 in offensive efficiency, and its defense has improved markedly, rising from No. 117 to No. 71, according to KenPom.com. A closer look, though, shows the Tigers benefit from pounding the offensive boards, snaring 40.1 percent of their own misses for second possessions.

Here’s a key stat: Last season,Missourishot a 58.0 effective field goal percentage, tops in the country. This season? It’s at 50 percent, or No. 109 nationally. And Bowers, a 6-8, 227-pound power forward, is the key cog with MU pumping 28.7 percent of its shots through him when he’s on the floor.

Without him, the offense can become an exercise in Pressey turning a corner to get dribble penetration before kicking out to Ross,Belland Brown on the perimeter.

As Florida showed, though, and experienced team sound its rotation can contest those looks, holdingMissourito galling 6 of 24 (or half of its shots) from behind the 3-point arc. Meanwhile, the Tigers front line gimped to a 4 of 16 (25 percent) day from the floor.

“You take a great player out of your lineup, the focal point of what you do and you’ve got to get adjusted,” Haith said. “It took us a couple games for us to get adjusted, and, obviously, I thought we got better without him being there.”

In Bowers’ stead, Oriahki was, obviously, expected to provide a portion of the scoring inside — a struggle in his first three games against Ole Miss, Georgia and Florida by averaging just 7 points. Granted Oriahki has scored 18 points the past two games, victories against South Carolin aand Vanderbilt.

“Without Laurence in the lineup, he’s been our focal point in the low post,” Haith said. “I only think that makes us a better team when Laurence does come back to form. We’ve asked him to be a guy that can score in the paint for us, and be a presence inside-out, and I think he’s just gotten better and better as the year (has) gone on with that with that roll.”

Yet it’s a stark change from Oriahki’s role at UConn, where he was supplanted last season by freshman and NBA Draft pick Andre Drummond: Rebounding and screening. Frustrated at being relegated to the bench after being a key player in the Huskies run to a 2011 national title, Oriahki, who had already graduated, transferred to MU to play immediately alongside former AAU teammate Pressey.

Oriahki appears happier his minutes have returned by Haith said it’s still a dogged effort to convince him he can be an offensive threat.

“He’s a Looney Toon,” Haith said. “He says, ‘My best offense is when I rebound.’ We want him to score, too.”

But there’s the clear hope, too, that Oriahki has grown comfortable with an expanded scoring role as a traditional front-line player, allowing Bowers to work away from the rim in face-up situations while still providing a steady rebounding presence. Collapsing defenses on post-entry plays also presents the Tigers front-line with the ability to feed the ball to shooters, and take some pressure off Pressey.

“He’s a force to be dealt with inside,” Jones said of Oriahki. “He gives them definitely a strong option down there on the block. He’s one of those guys that you have to really be concerned about because if he’s down there one-on-one he’s shown that he’s a very capable scorer.”

LSU recruiting chat with Advocate sportswriter Scott Rabalais

LSU football chat with Advocate sportswriter Les East

Miles’ raise to go before LSU Board on Feb. 1

Football coach Les Miles’ proposed new contract will pay him an average of $4.3 million over seven years and will be presented to the LSU Board of Supervisors for approval Feb. 1, the school announced Thursday.

Miles and Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics Joe Alleva agreed to a new seven-year deal in December, but the raise from $3.751 million per year wasn’t previously announced.

“Les Miles is one of the most successful coaches in America and he has the LSU program in position to compete for championships each and every year in the most dominant football conference (the Southeastern Conference) in the country,” Alleva said in a statement.  “He recruits at an elite level, his players graduate and he is a respected member of the community.  We are proud he will lead the LSU football program for the long-term future.”

Since Miles became head coach in 2005, LSU has the most overall victories of any team in the SEC.  Miles’ overall winning percentage of .802 is the fifth best mark in the history of the SEC.

LSU has had the second-highest Graduation Success Rate in the SEC, trailing Vanderbilt, each of the last two years and 167 players have received their college degrees under Miles’ watch.

Miles’ existing contract was due to expire in December of 2017, and the new deal would be effective on January 1, 2013 and extend to December 31, 2019.

Miles’ annual compensation includes base salary and other compensation such as Tiger Athletic Foundation, radio, television, internet and public speaking payments.

Additionally in the proposed new amendment, LSU will pay $150,000 each year of the agreement into an account owned and controlled by LSU.  Miles can collect the funds in the account totaling $750,000 after serving the first five years of the contract.  He can collect the final $300,000 in the account if he serves the final two years of the contract.

Miles is the second-winningest coach in school history with a record of 85-21, trailing only Hall of Fame coach Charles McClendon in total victories.  He has led the Tigers to three SEC Western Division titles, two SEC championships and the 2007 BCS National Championship.  The Tigers have finished in the top five in the nation four times under his leadership and had the only perfect 13-0 regular season in school history in 2011.

 

LSU players on the Sports Illustrated 2013 NFL Draft Big Board

LSU has three players in the top 40 on the Sports Illustrated 2013 NFL Draft Big Board. Defensive end Barkevious Mingo is at No. 10, defensive end Sam Montgomery is at No. 20 and linebacker Kevin Minter is at No. 28.

Here is the link to the story.

Priest Willis says he will make his choice Wednesday

The world gets to find out Wednesday which school Priest Willis thinks is the most righteous.

Willis tweeted Tuesday that he plans to announce his commitment on Wednesday. The nationally ranked safety out of Tempe (Ariz.) Marcos De Niza is expected to choose between LSU and UCLA, but his hometown school Arizona State is also viewed as a dark horse.

The timing of Willis’ announcement would not appear to bode well for LSU’s chances.

Willis (6-foot-2, 199 pounds) visited UCLA over the weekend with another top LSU prospect, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., safety Tahaan Goodman (6-2, 184). Goodman was originally slated to go to LSU for an official visit last weekend, but his plans feel through at the last minute.

It has been widely reported that Willis and Goodman would like to attend the same college.

According to 24/7 Sports, LSU defensive backs coach Corey Raymond, who has been recruiting Willis since he was formerly on the staff at Nebraska, is scheduled to make an in-home visit on Monday.

LSU is expected to remain hard after Willis if he does not commit to the Tigers.

Willis is ranked in the top 100 by all four major recruiting services, topping out at No. 41 according to Scout which rates him as a five-star prospect.

Latest rankings

LSU, which picked up its 26th commitment (plus one early signee in tight end Logan Stokes) over the weekend with a pledge from Holy Cross wide receiver Kevin Spears (6-2, 191), is currently ranked No. 4 on 24/7 Sports list of the nation’s top recruiting classes. The Tigers come in at No. 5 according to Rivals and Scout and No. 8 according to ESPN.

The national signing period begins Feb. 6.

 

LSU players on NFL Draft board

Bucky Brooks, an analyst for the NFL Network and NFL.com, has come up with his top 50 draft prospects.

LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo is listed at No. 6. The other former Tigers are defensive end Sam Montgomery (No. 15), linebacker Kevin Minter (No. 29) and safety Eric Reid (No. 38).

Here is Brooks’ list on nfl.com.

LSU recruiting and women’s basketball chat with Advocate sportswriter Scott Rabalais