NEW ORLEANS – At a time of the basketball season when so many clichés and catch phrases are thrown out liberally, there’s one in particular the LSU men would dearly love to steer clear of.
One and done.
To do so, though the Tigers will have to figure out a way to get back on track against a team as desperate as they are as the 2012 SEC Tournament gets under way.
Eighth-seeded LSU (17-13) and the No. 9-seed Razorbacks (18-13) launch this year’s event at noon Thursday at New Orleans Arena. And they do so as teams whose postseason aspirations are on dangerously evaporating fumes.
Just not dead yet.
With four wins in four days, LSU or Arkansas would pull off the unlikely and claim the SEC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
A more realistic goal for the Tigers and Hogs is to remain on the radar of the NIT, which has a representative at the SEC tourney with a slew of teams to pick from in a season when the league standings were very muddled after the top spot.
To stay in that mix, LSU and Arkansas both desperately need a win – even if it’s the only one either team can muster in New Orleans, which seems likely considering that No. 1-ranked and top SEC seed Kentucky awaits the winner in a quarterfinal game on Friday.
That makes another cliché as fitting as ever: One game at a time.
“The big thing we have to do is come out, compete and leave everything we have on the floor,” said Storm Warren, one of three LSU seniors looking to stave off the end of their careers as long as possible.
Added guard Ralston Turner, “You can’t win two if you don’t win the first.”
Getting over that first hurdle figures to take a strong effort for either team, especially neither enters the tournament playing its best basketball.
After a four-game winning streak allowed the Tigers to climb to 17-10 and put them in prime position for a postseason invitation, LSU lost its final three games, two road blowouts and a home game against Tennessee when it led by 15 points in the first half.
Meanwhile, Arkansas has dropped five of its last six games and has to manage the chore of winning away from Fayetteville, something that happened only once all season.
After splitting during the regular season when both teams relied on their strengths and a home-court advantage, the basic notion of who executes better takes center stage.
The matchup on the surface looks like a classic battle of opposites.
The Razorbacks’ up-tempo, full-court pressure style has manifested 72.4 points a game, fourth in the SEC. But Arkansas is last in the league in scoring defense (69.7 ppg) and 11th in field-goal defense (43.2%).
As suspect as the Hogs’ defense can be, they are forcing 16.3 turnovers a game, which leads the SEC. But they are also the league’s worst rebounding team.
LSU is a much different animal. Offensively-challenged most of the season, the Tigers have played their best when they have defended well and won the rebound battle.
Those strengths have eluded LSU lately – a big reason behind the untimely three-game skid.
“We just slacked off in the defensive end at times,” center Justin Hamilton said. “We didn't execute, and we know that it was all on us. We know that we can fix those things and so in the past three days, we have been trying to get back to playing LSU basketball and just executing and playing with a lot of effort and intensity.”
|Justin Hamilton: Averaging 16.5 points, 9.5 rebounds a game against Arkansas this season.|
Part of that effort revolves around Hamilton coming up big in half-court sets. He scored 20 points in the first game and grabbed 11 rebounds in the second, as did freshman forward Johnny O’Bryant. Those two plus Warren have to provide an advantage inside against the smaller Razorbacks.
But LSU also has to sharpen up its perimeter shooting after hitting only 6-of-31 in two games against Arkansas from outside the arc.
“Their pressure causes problems for you because they attack you offensively,” LSU coach Trent Johnson said. “But they give you so many different looks on the defensive end, whether it’s a 2-2-1 on a full court, man-to-man, run-and-jump, 3-2 (zone), face guard, go back to a matchup zone.
“So they really do a good job of keeping you out of rhythm. But they're always in the attack mode defensively and then they're always in attack mode offensively.”
The Tigers committed 16 turnovers in both games against Arkansas and didn’t shoot well in either game – 34.4% in Fayetteville and 38.5% at home.
Turner was a key in LSU’s 71-65 victory on Feb. 4 with 16 points, as he slashed and operated inside of settling solely for perimeter shots. Eddie Ludwig was also a spark with 12 points and he gave the Tigers a taller (6-foot-9), steadier outlet option against the Arkansas pressure.
“We have to handle their pressure and make it as tough as we can on them when we run our offense,” Turner said.
|Andre Stringer and his backcourt mates will look for a similar effort against Arkansas' B.J. Young after limiting him to 3 points on Feb. 4|
Which means consistently breaking the Hogs’ press without a wave of turnovers and then executing well in half-court sets, which isn’t an Arkansas strength.
LSU has a decided size advantage inside, and Hamilton’s passing skills from the high post should make Warren, O’Bryant and even Turner consistently viable options for easy looks in the paint.
“The main thing we have to do is slow down and capitalize on their mistakes,” Warren said. “If we take care of the ball and rebound the ball, we’ve got a great chance to win.”
The chance to win is what March is all about, after all. The chance to avoid one-and-done.
“It's March, so anything can happen, and so we know that coming into this, no matter what seed you are, you still have to play your best game to beat the opponent,” Hamilton said.