It was no secret two weeks ago, following LSU's stretch of two wins in three days over South Carolina and Mississippi State, that the schedule was about to become a lot more unforgiving for the Tigers. A team that had won five of six was looking down a tougher road to end SEC play.
But, through four games against Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and Missouri (currently a combined 39-25 in the league), Johnny Jones' Tigers are 2-2, having held true to form this season by winning the two at home and dropping the two on the road.
LSU now stands at 17-10 overall, 8-8 in the SEC.
Below I provide two 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. Charles Carmouche has become the glue for this LSU team.
It's time I come fully clean and give this young man the credit he deserves. Before the season tipped off, I huddled – over the phone and in person – with some of my LSU basketball inner circle, trying more than anything else to gauge the impact transfers Charles Carmouche and Shavon Coleman would have. The consensus was that Coleman was the more dynamic player and that he'd be needed more with LSU's limited size inside.
Well, while there's no doubt Coleman has chipped in his share, it's been Carmouche who's easily been the more necessary player for Johnny Jones. For the season Carmouche, who's played through tendinitis in his knee, has done a little of everything, averaging 10.5 ppg (fourth on the team), 4.0 rpg (third), 3.5 apg (second) and 1.9 spg (second) while shooting 43.8% from the field (the highest percentage of his five-year college career) and 37.7% from deep (third on the team).
Carmouche has been even more lethal in his last four games played (excluding the Tennessee game), putting up All-SEC type numbers. In that quartet of ballgames, against a higher level of competition, the senior transfer has posted 22.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.8 apg and 1.3 spg while shooting 62.2% from the field and an uncanny 60.7% from deep, averaging 4.3 made triples. In short, he's been whatever LSU has needed him to be all season long – pressure defender, distributor, scorer, long-range shooter to stretch the floor, rebounding guard, etc.
So, while Anthony Hickey may be LSU's engine and its most exciting player (and Johnny O'Bryant the most productive Tiger), Carmouche has proven he'll do anything to get the Tigers into victory lane and he always does the dirty work to ensure nothing falls through the cracks. The game in Knoxville aside, where he had a regrettable episode with Jones, Carmouche has been the perfect addition to this 2012-13 team.
2. The Tigers' tempo is playing well in year one under Johnny Jones.
Quick disclaimer: I know the league's down. But, as I've said several times before in this space, that's not LSU's fault nor should the Tigers feel any less enthusiastic about their accomplishments in the SEC this season because of it. With all that out the way, it's been pretty evident that Jones' preferred style – getting up and down the floor, turning defense into offense – is taking, not only with his players but in the results department through 27 games.
Here are LSU's team averages in the big three offensive categories (scoring, rebounding and assists) and the defensive department that matters most to Jones (steals). They are accompanied in parenthesis with where that average ranks nationally, among 347 Division-I teams, and what the equivalent percentile is for the Tigers. LSU averages 71.6 ppg (76th, top 21.9%), 38.0 rpg (38th, top 11.0%), 14.5 apg (73rd, top 21.0%) and 9.3 spg (12th, top 3.5%).
The bottom line is that the hardwood Tigers are a lot more aggressive, pleasing to watch and, at the end of the day, productive than their predecessors the last three years.
It's also been interesting to watch how LSU matches up with like-minded teams. There aren't that many SEC squads who play the way the Tigers do, but Arkansas is definitely one of them. Here's what Jones said after the 65-60 win Wednesday when asked if it's easier or more difficult to play a team similar to yours.
"It's easier, I think, anytime you're not worried about trying to create tempo out there. I think it's important that you understand how you have to really defend. I think you have to be disciplined in terms of defending, and at the same time, you have to be disciplined offensively as well and not get into fool's gold in taking shots too quick. Because they're available to you, you still have to really execute at a high level. Defensively, you have to make sure that you get back and balance the floor. You can't cheat up because they're looking for easy scoring opportunities as well."
Three-point play: In this coming week's two opponents, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, LSU will face two of the SEC's top three scorers in the Rebels' Marshall Henderson (19.5 ppg) and the Aggies' Elston Turner (18.0 ppg) … LSU has been an interesting case study this year when it comes to assists versus turnovers. The Tigers rank third in the SEC in assists, dishing out 14.5 dimes per game as a team. They also, however, rank third to the bottom in the league in turnovers, giving the ball away 15.0 times per contest. This goes to show faster has been good and bad for LSU in Johnny Jones' first year back in TigerTown … Finally, Anthony Hickey (3.2 steals per game) is still edging out Oakland's Duke Mondy (3.1) for the individual steals leader in college basketball. Hickey had two rips apiece this past week against Arkansas and Missouri.
LSU wraps up the regular season this week by traveling to College Station for a game Wednesday night at 7 p.m. with Texas A&M (17-12, 7-9) before coming back home to host Ole Miss (21-8, 10-6) Saturday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. Both games will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
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