It's been a few weeks since I've dished out a ‘Read and React,' and the time seems right for a basketball-themed edition considering some of the interesting events that transpired during and since LSU's 77-63 win Friday night in the team's opener against UC Santa Barbara.
There are three primary brass tacks in my eyes, so let's get right down to business. I'll state all three facts and then give my reaction on the significance each holds for the Tigers as the season continues.
- Johnny O'Bryant left Friday's game with an injury and missed team practice Sunday.
There continues to be some uncertainty surrounding the severity of the injury. Official word is that he missed practice Sunday (the team was off Saturday) with a "leg injury" and is listed as day to day. Unofficial word is that O'Bryant is dealing with a strained left calf and is wearing a soft boot while coping with the painful, but most likely not long-term, injury.
With LSU hosting McNeese State Tuesday night, many are wondering if O'Bryant, the team's only legitimate post presence, will be able to go. The truth is it would be very hard for me to see a scenario in which JOB does play or, better put, if Johnny Jones and his staff allow O'Bryant to play. He's quite simply too important to the success of this team to risk it in a non-conference game against an in-state opponent.
There was a serious sense of gravity when I discussed O'Bryant with several people in the LSU basketball circle over the weekend – not that his injury might be bad, but that the team would be in dire straits without him come SEC play. It's impossible to imagine the Tigers scratching by with only Jalen Courtney and Eddie Ludwig in the paint. Look for Jones and LSU to protect their biggest asset (literally).
All of this brings me to my big point on JOB, though. The real question shouldn't be "Can Johnny play on Tuesday?" It should be "Can Johnny make it through the season largely uninjured?" This specific setback may well be a small thing, for now, but the bigger picture is that LSU can't afford to be without O'Bryant, a player who will now see everything front lines can throw at the Tigers with Justin Hamilton no longer around to take the brunt of the opposition's attack inside.
It'll be arguably the most important thing to watch all season. If LSU is to remain competitive against the big boys, O'Bryant has to not only get some help inside (with others, like Ludwig, absorbing some of the physicality), but he also must stay on the court above all else. He missed five straight games as a freshman after breaking a bone in his hand, so at least this latest injury isn't recurring. Still, his longevity will be tested this season. It already has less than a half of play into the campaign.
- Corban Collins started at point guard in place of Anthony Hickey.
Johnny Jones told reporters Wednesday that he felt like he sent a message to Hickey and Shane Hammink by suspending them for last Monday's exhibition game against Arkansas-Monticello after the duo let down on the academic side of things (something TSD's Matt McCurdy learned following the fact). Jones wouldn't budge that day on who his starting point guard would be Friday versus UC Santa Barbara, but he did indicate he thought the message delivered Monday was sufficient.
Clearly not. That's the only viable explanation for why Jones would start Collins and then only play the freshman 11 minutes in the ballgame while Hickey came in off the bench to log 28 minutes.
Jones hinted Wednesday that he'd consider giving the nod to Collins to reward him for playing well in Hickey's absence against UAM. The train of thought from LSU's first-year coach was that he'd be sending the wrong message to Collins if he didn't reward his performance.
Frankly, in one man's opinion, I'm not sure how much I buy into that. Collins will no doubt be an important part of this year's team, but his biggest contributions in an LSU uniform are a season or two away. Hickey, on the other hand, might be the best player on the 2012-13 squad. He's undoubtedly the one most capable to play triggerman in Jones' desired up-tempo pace. One at least has to wonder why it's not his confidence/psyche that is more important to Jones.
Of course it is entirely possible that reinforcing the discipline is just Johnny's way. Maybe he'll squeeze the most out of Hickey by hammering this message home. The Kentucky native did, after all, post six points, six assists and a ridiculous seven steals in his time as a substitute on Friday. With production like that, I expect Hickey to reclaim his post as a starter sooner than later.
- Charles Carmouche also started and put in a team-high 16 points.
This is something I've discussed briefly on the board, but I feel it's important to convey a bit more formally in this space: Charles Carmouche can play. The senior transfer from Memphis has been extremely refreshing for this relatively young team breaking in five total new faces.
His is one, but I think it's safe to say Carmouche has seen his stock rise significantly since the team came together and began competing in open gym. The guy flat out hustles on defense and, assuming he stays healthy, will be the most consistent source of steals outside of Hickey on the team (Carmouche had two on Friday). He embodies what Jones wants to do in turning defense into offense.
And, after scoring 16 against UCSB and providing ample offense in the exhibition, it seems the crafty veteran is capable of giving LSU more scoring than many, including me (admittedly), expected before the season. That's the kind of lagniappe this club needs.
Finally, aside from Ludwig and the tuba player, Carmouche is LSU's only senior. Weird to say for a guy who just arrived on campus less than five months ago, but Carmouche gives this team somewhat of a stoic leader who's been through the battles before. He's proving to be a good fit – so far a better one than Shavon Coleman – as LSU's starting three.
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