Farrer: In focus

Taking stock of the Tigers basketball team as a key month arrives for this season and beyond.

LSU’s men’s basketball team has endured some rough previous seasons recently inside the SEC.

 

Halfway through the 2010-11 league schedule, the Tigers are staying competitive while sporting a 3-5 record and 13-9 overall. While the NCAA Tournament seems a bit out of reach, LSU has the chance to put together a strong push for the NIT.

 

Teams at this point tend to improve and build towards the future or fold and pack it in for the season. Coaching and the players’ personality will determine which direction a season goes.

 

Let’s take a look at each position for the Tigers and breakdown for the remainder of the season and into the future.


Point guard

 

In fourth-year coach Trent Johnson’s offense, the point guard has a ton of pressure and responsibility on the court. This demands a point guard with big shoulders and ability to process information quickly.

 

Anthony Hickey has taken over the position as a true freshman and is a huge bright sport for this team. Hickey has shown the ability to knock down jumpers and be a team leader for this squad. In addition, Hickey can break down defenders to get into the paint to create for others which is a back-breaker for the defense.

 

Anthony Hickey

Hickey excels in the open court, which the Tigers have never truly adopted into their style since Johnson became coach. If the coaching staff can loosen the reins and Hickey can improve his decision-making, then there is no question he has a chance to be a future All-SEC player.

 

Senior Chris Bass is the backup for Hickey and sometimes comes in as a secondary ball-handler. Bass has had his fair share of ups and downs, but he is a solid backup. His offensive game is extremely limited, but he makes up for it with effort on the defensive end.

 

The one glowing weaknesses in this group is the decision-making aspect and it has hurt the team at times this season. This is a position that needs to be recruited well considering Bass is leaving after this year.

 
Shooting guard/Small forward

 

Once again, this position has a ton of youth and growth to make in the future. However, the ability to consistently knock down jumpers is troubling. Sophomores Ralston Turner and Andre Stringer broke onto the scene last year as talented scoring guards. Call it a sophomore slump or maybe the SEC figuring them out, but make no mistake about it, both have been disappointing this season.

 

Turner has not been able to find his stroke consistently and has faded away in games at times. He has the skills and strength to be a tremendous wing man if the development continues. He struggles at times with spot-up shots and finds it more comfortable to play with the ball in his hands.

 

Learning to play without the ball and becoming a creator for others are the main concerns to improve on. If LSU has a chance to be an NCAA team in the future, then Turner needs to become “the man.”

 

Ralston Turner

Stringer is a bit more of a mystery than Turner. Stringer is a spark plug of energy when he is knocking down shots, but becomes invisible if he’s not. The one area of concern has to be the shot selection. Too many times he is shooting contested shots early in the shot clock with nobody around to rebound, although, this should improve with maturity and the stronger presence of an inside game.

 

Jalen Courtney and John Isaac are young guys that have seen limited time off the bench. Isaac is the one to keep an eye on in the future. He is tough kid who can already compete on the defensive end. His attitude and demeanor are no-nonsense and could be a huge building block for Johnson. Isaac’s offensive skills will round out and hopefully that will consist of the knack for knocking down the 3-point shot. Mark it down now, Isaac will be an invaluable glue guy.


Power forward/Center

 

Out of all the positions, the big man spot has the biggest high-risk, high-reward.

 

Justin Hamilton

Justin Hamilton has already fit the bill as a high-reward type player. His skills are endless with great hands and feet that allow him to move around other fastest and stronger players. He has the range to knock down open jumpers and play with his back to the basket. The only thing Hamilton lacks is that nasty streak to dominate every possession. There should be very few possessions when he doesn’t touch the ball with his decision-making and passing skills.

 

Freshman Johnny O’Bryant has shown huge improvements throughout the year, and the good news is he is only a freshman. O’Bryant has the athleticism and toughness to compete on any basketball floor in America. He can rebound at a high level and also has a nice touch from the outside, although it doesn’t need to be extended to the 3-point line. O’Bryant has been inconsistent with his play, though – sometimes mental mistakes and others times not playing all out. If both big men return next year (they’d be foolish if they don’t), LSU will have a stout starting front court.

 

Seniors Storm Warren and Malcolm White round out the front-court rotation and each bring a different skill set. Warren is a well-tested senior who provides leadership and work ethic to the floor. He never put all of his talents together to be dominant, but Warren has been a wonderful program player. His attitude combined with tremendous strength make him a player to watch as the season closes out and he looks to close out his senior season and career at LSU with a bang.

 

White has unfortunately had his fair share of bad luck and never established a true role since transferring from Ole Miss. Hopefully after the suspension for the awful foul on Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, White will try to close out his last year on a high note.

 


Coaching

Coaching is a part of the game as well, and must be accounted for as well. Overall the team seems to moving in the right direction in terms of competing for an SEC championship.

 

There have been some big wins against Marquette, Rutgers, and Arkansas, so there is room for optimism. At times, the coaching staff seems a bit rattled and uncomfortable to the thought of change. This can be tied to inconsistent play of a young team, but offensively has always lagged behind Johnson’s defense.

 

Trent Johnson

Ever since Marcus Thornton left, LSU has struggled with putting the ball in the basket. Albeit Thornton was a beast, the offense has lacked a true “go-to guy,” and the team becomes stagnant and holds the ball. Maybe opening the floor more by letting the players run on missed shots, but something needs to change to create more opportunities.

 

The one sign of a Johnson’s personality that is evident through the players is the energy and defense. This team is playing hard and scrapping for everything it can get on the defensive end. If the Tigers limit the mental mistakes and change some offensive sets then this will be a contender next year.

 

As for this year, it will be interesting to watch how the staff finishes out recruiting and the season. Johnson and his staff have the pieces in place to contend in the future, but whether they can do so at the level of Kentucky, Alabama, Vanderbilt, and Florida is the question.

 

 

Notes

  • Shavon Coleman

    One junior-college player to keep an eye on is Shavon Coleman, a 6-6 wing player from Howard Community College in Texas. LSU is interested and watching closely as the season ends. Coleman is originally from Thibodaux and could provide instant help for next year.

    • Darryl Milburn from McKinley is another guard to watch. However the staff is not as high on him, and might be satisfied with Malik Morgan.
    • Enjoy this Kentucky team for as long as you can, because they could have five first-round draft picks next year, including the potential No. 1 pick in Anthony Davis, who broke Shaquille O’Neal’s SEC freshman block record already.
    • The one type area that LSU lacks is a tough, hard-nosed, “junk-yard” player. Here is a team of my favorite “junk-yard dogs.”

    PG – Aaron Craft, Ohio State

    SG – Dion Waiters, Syracuse

    SF – Tony Mitchell, Alabama

    PF – Thomas Robinson, Kansas

    C – Ricardo Ratliffe, Missouri


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