The last time LSU had what looked to be a relatively easy week on paper, Week 2 when the Tigers hosted South Carolina and then traveled to Georgia, the purple and gold dropped both games.
This time around the Bayou Bengals took care of business, exacting revenge on South Carolina Thursday in Columbia, 64-46, before returning home on short rest to wax hapless Mississippi State, 80-68, on Saturday. As a result Johnny Jones' squad, winners of six of its last eight, is back to .500 in league play.
LSU now stands at 15-8 overall, 6-6 in the SEC.
Below I provide three quick hitters on the Tigers, highlighting the latest and most important team news and trends on the court.
Keep an eye out for this weekly feature on Sunday nights through the end of the 2012-13 season.
1. The light has come on for Johnny O'Bryant.
This was, beyond question, the best week of basketball Johnny O'Bryant has played in an LSU uniform. Neither South Carolina nor State was in any position to stop LSU's sophomore power forward in the paint, personnel-wise, but that's not LSU's fault and it's also somewhat indicative of where the college game as a whole is heading – less skilled bigs who can also bang.
O'Bryant feasted off a smallish Gamecock frontline, pouring in a career-high 30 points on 13-of-19 shooting (68.4%) and dragging down 10 rebounds. He was, simply put, unstoppable from within five feet. But his effort at home versus the Bulldogs, who did feature one formidable post presence in Gavin Ware, was perhaps more impressive. JOB totaled 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting (71.4%), 11 rebounds and a career-high eight assists (his previous high was three).
I've heard criticism – some from basketball minds I respect – on O'Bryant that the big man appears to be playing for his numbers. Well, he chalked them up in a big way this week, but the way he did it signaled a bit of a change to me, in the best way possible. His shooting percentage was through the roof in both games. He didn't force shots and offense in the MSU game when his team around him was excelling, leading to the ultra-efficient 5-of-7 line. And he passed much better (and quicker) out of the post and from double-teams against the Bulldogs, which created open looks and translated to eight assists.
As Matt McCurdy suggested Saturday night on Twitter, an All-SEC season may be in the making for O'Bryant, who suddenly has eight double-doubles in LSU's last nine games. Even better for the Tigers, JOB is finding out just how good he can look playing the team game.
2. LSU, almost miraculously, continues to rebound above its head.
Far and away the biggest preseason concern surrounding this team, aside from an overall lack of bodies, was the limited size inside and projected problems rebounding the basketball. It almost defies explanation then, with O'Bryant the only player 6-9 or taller who averages more than 15 minutes a game, that life on the glass has actually been an advantage for LSU in 2012-13. But it has. The numbers not only say as much, they scream it.
Through 23 games the Tigers are averaging 38.5 rebounds. That ranks 31st nationwide and third in the SEC, behind only Ole Miss and Missouri (two teams with a combined 15-9 record in the league). And LSU is averaging 13.4 offensive rebounds, too, meaning more shot attempts and more possession. The board dominance was certainly on display this week, with the Tigers grabbing 43 to South Carolina's 29 and then 36 to only 20 from Mississippi State.
Give some of the credit to Andrew Del Piero, who not many thought would see legitimate time prior to the season. He's given the Tigers a 7-foot-3 presence inside, if only for 13.1 minutes per game. But also recognize that this bunch is getting it done collectively. Eight different players for LSU average at least 2.4 rebounds, with O'Bryant leading the way at 8.7 and Coleman not too far behind at 6.7.
Here's what O'Bryant said after the State game: "We are not the biggest team, but the past few games we've played much bigger. Andrew has done well the past few games. I've done well. We just played much bigger."
3. Proving time is now that this is a different season.
I won't be the first or last person to point this out, but the resemblance is so striking it's hard to ignore. Last season, after struggling out the gate to a 2-5 start in SEC play, Trent Johnson's Tigers went on to win five of six to get above the .500 mark to 7-6. This season, Jones' first at the helm, LSU also got out to a 2-5 start. Now, five games and four wins later, the hardwood Tigers are 6-6 with the opportunity to equal last year's feat with a win at Tennessee Tuesday.
However, that's just about the point where Jones' crew will want the similarities to end. After getting to 7-6 last spring, Johnson's Tigers fell in the tank for the final three conference games, ending the regular season at 7-9. Fast-forward to present day and LSU, in a three-way tie for seventh in the SEC with Tennessee and Georgia, has a chance to prove it's grown. It also has a chance to show the promise of what may be coming around the corner in the Johnny Jones Era.
The road definitely gets tougher, though, with the South Carolinas and Mississippi States of the world in the rearview. Here's how this year's stretch run lines up: at Tennessee (6-6 in SEC play), vs. Alabama (9-3), vs. Arkansas (7-5), at Missouri (7-5), at Texas A&M (5-7) and vs. Ole Miss (8-4).
The Tigers have a real chance at parlaying a few more wins into an NIT berth, also something last year's team accomplished. But the reality is it would be a helluva lot more impressive achievement this time around given the cast of characters and the state of transition in the program.
Four-point play: Johnny Jones revealed after the game that center Andrew Del Piero had been dealing with some kind of sickness for a few weeks of late. Del Piero is all better now, and Jones indicated that helps explain why his minutes are back up … Point guard Anthony Hickey is still the NCAA's individual leader in steals per game, clocking in at 3.3. Oakland's Duke Mondy is still second, now tied with Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams, at 3.1 steals per game … The 21 points scored by senior guard Charles Carmouche Saturday represented a season high for the LSU transfer, but not a career high. Carmouche scored 23 against Western Kentucky on Jan. 30, 2010, as a member of the UNO basketball team … The Tigers had five different players score in double figures against Mississippi State. In fact for the season LSU now has four players averaging double-digit scoring (O'Bryant 13.0, Hickey 11.7, Coleman 10.8 and Stringer 10.7).
LSU has a quick turnaround, traveling to Knoxville for a Tuesday night game with Tennessee (14-10, 6-6), winners of three straight, at 6 p.m. on ESPNU. The Tigers finish the coming week by hosting Alabama (17-8, 9-3), second in the conference standings, Saturday afternoon at 12:30 p.m.
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