The first week in Southeastern Conference play for LSU basketball has come and gone, and Johnny Jones' Tigers are 0-2 after losses at Auburn (68-63) and versus No. 11 Florida (74-52).
Below I provide three quick hitters on the Tigers, highlighting the latest and most important team news and trends on the court.
It's my intention to keep this weekly feature going every Sunday from now until the end of the 2012-13 season.
1. LSU still hasn't been able to put its ideal starting five out there with everyone healthy.
It's been one of the major storylines of this season to date. A combination of injuries, suspensions and tweaking by Coach Jones has made the starting lineup for LSU this year look like a musical chairs game. Well, the Tigers actually did feature the same starting lineup (Anthony Hickey, Andre Stringer, Charles Carmouche, Johnny O'Bryant and Andrew Del Piero) in both games this week, but it wasn't at full strength.
O'Bryant (high ankle sprain) coming back from injury is the main reason why. In a different situation with a deeper team, JOB would sit a few games to get closer to 100%. Not on this team. He's needed every game out there, even though he only averaged 19.5 minutes per game against Auburn and Florida. Jones confirmed after the loss to the Gators that O'Bryant did suffer a fall during the contest, and the staff kept him out afterward as a precaution. LSU will need him to get right (and regain some of his explosiveness) and Hickey to continue to fly straight to keep its ideal lineup – and key players – out there for the majority of its ballgames.
2. Shavon Coleman finally had a week where he cooled down.
Now the question becomes: Is this a sign of things to come or was it just an off week? Entering SEC play, Coleman led LSU in scoring (14.1 ppg) and rebounding (8.6 rpg) while shooting a crisp 50.4% from the field. Against Auburn and Florida, Coleman mustered 7.5 ppg, including a season-low four points at Auburn, and 7.0 rpg while shooting a putrid 31.8% from the field.
Part of the problem is that he's been asked to assume more duties defensively against post players (fours, usually) than he's used to with O'Bryant being limited and in foul trouble. Still, whether he's exerting more on the defensive end or not, LSU has to have his scoring to get by. It was the delightful surprise of the pre-conference slate – his inside-out production on offense – and the Tigers need him to get the touch back to have a chance in many conference games the next month and a half.
3. The Tigers' full-court press may be successful, but it's also unsustainable for full games.
From Joe Fan at home to just about every person in the PMAC Saturday, the same question was circulating midway through the second half: Why didn't they break out the press sooner? It was basically the same story at Auburn, and it was a familiar thread from LSU's comeback win against Seton Hall a month ago. The Tigers turn people over at a high rate and have obvious success when going into their full-court press. Problem is, Jones knows he doesn't have the horses in the stable to run that kind of race.
It's not that the guys he does have are incapable in any way, just that the numbers don't dictate sustained full-court pressure being a good strategy for this year's LSU team. There are only 11 scholarship players on the roster, and Eddie Ludwig has fallen out of the rotation, Shane Hammink and Malik Morgan are still in the process of gaining trust as freshmen and Jalen Courtney and Del Piero only offer so much in a full-court press. After that math, it becomes clear only six guys are well-suited for making it happen. Carmouche and Hickey are great point men for it, but for now expect to only see it when LSU's down in the second half and trying to gain a spark by speeding a team up in the short term.
Four-point play: Corban Collins made it back into the lineup Saturday after missing the Auburn game with an undisclosed injury. He scored one point and grabbed one rebound in four minutes … Hickey fell from first to second in the nation in steals, now at 3.55 rips per game. He's behind only Briante Weber of VCU (3.59) … Ludwig sustained a head injury of some sort during practice Friday and was withheld from action against Florida. No word yet on if he'll be available this week … LSU's struggles at the free throw line as a team are now getting to extreme proportions. The Tigers rank 341st of 347 Division-I teams in the NCAA, shooting 59.2%.
LSU hosts South Carolina (10-5, 0-2) Wednesday night at 7 p.m. before traveling to Georgia (6-9, 0-2) for a matchup with the Bulldogs at 7 p.m. Saturday night.
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