Team Preview: 2014 LSU Tigers
By: Jonathan Salmon
There is big hype surrounding the LSU Tigers since they swatted their conference’s number two team Kentucky away with a seemingly effortless wave of their hand, 87 to 82. This is by far the biggest win of their season, which left Johnny Jones and his club with a four and three record in their division and 13-6 overall.
Whether this means they are a team to look at in the coming month, or whether it was simply a freakishly good performance by Johnny O’Bryant III—29 points, nine rebounds, two blocks—is still up for debate, but it does mean that LSU handed Kentucky only their second conference loss and are one of the would-be bubble teams in the SEC that others would rather avoid later on.
Strongside: Come March, teams that make rebounding a top priority are the ones that will make some waves in the tournament. This bodes well for Jones and the LSU Tigers, who have two of the best defensive players in the SEC. Both Jordan Mickey and O’Bryant are in the top 10 list for rebounds per game, six and seven respectively.
Even though Mickey is a freshman he is already one of the lead defensive players in the conference. He is also the number one blocker, getting his hand on 3.7 shots a game and tossing them away from the basket for a total of 80 this season, tied for number three in the country. To put that in perspective, Kentucky’s big man Willie Cauley-Stein has collected 72 so far, and the next closest, Ole Miss’s Aaron Jones, has 53.
Even with this type of play, Mickey cannot take the team’s spotlight away from O’Bryant. The six-foot-nine-inch, 256-pound forward is the Tigers’ leading scorer and teams are beginning to take note and zero in, although if Johnny Jones plays this right, it could benefit him. With LSU’s opponents constantly collapsing on O’Bryant down low and surrounding him with two or three players, all the offense needs is a touch from the forward and a quick pass to the perimeter, leaving their guards available to fire a long-range shot.
Weakside: If O’Bryant does draw the defenders onto his person, it is doubtful whether his teammates will be able to drain these much-needed points. Andre Stringer is the sole guard with a field goal percentage over 40 percent (0.435), and with Anthony Hickey shooting 0.38 and Malik Morgan at 0.364—who tragically ended his season Saturday against Auburn—they don’t have much of a choice other than to send the ball down low.
Johnny Jones’ team has been having some trouble on the road, and as a squad that doesn’t do anything amazing at home, this is something they have to rectify if they want to make it into the NCAA tournament come March. In their last four games away from home they have lost three, but they have a chance to prove themselves as three of their next five upcoming games are in their opponents’ arenas; the caveat is that their opponents are Texas A&M, Arkansas and, yes, Kentucky again.
All Told: The Tigers’ big men up front have the ability to wear teams down with their size and aggressive play in the paint, but for opponents that can stick with them they need a different tactic.
Johnny Jones is working on focusing his team into a dribble, drive, draw, dish offense which will allow them to free up O’Bryant and Mickey down low, but if they are unable to make their perimeter play more threatening, this will be in vain and opponents will simply shut down their play in the key.
Evidently this will not stop them every time, because their forwards are capable of running the show by themselves in certain cases. This might be enough to propel them out of the SEC, but if they meet the nation’s best in March, individual efforts will not push them far enough to see a second-round berth, let alone an Elite Eight.