Conference tournament time brings a new lease on life for every team in America.
That maxim certainly applies to LSU (18-11, 9-9), the nine-seed entering this week's SEC Tournament in Nashville. The Tigers, who open play versus eighth-seeded Georgia (15-16, 9-9) on Thursday, are trying to lock down a spot in the NIT or possibly even sneak into the NCAA Tournament with four straight wins in Music City.
Senior transfer Charles Carmouche knows a thing or two about going on that type of run.
"We won the conference tournament two years in a row at Memphis in Conference USA," explained Carmouche to TSD. "The first year (2011) we were underdogs and ended up beating UTEP in UTEP in the championship game. The second year (2012) we were pretty much the favorite, and we won it while I was sitting out that year. But I was able to be a part of two Conference USA championship teams over there at Memphis."
Now Carmouche, a New Orleans native, is trying to turn the trick with a different set of Tigers in his final season of collegiate basketball. On Monday the LSU senior leader laid out the formula for success in tournament play and reminded the format is more natural than many outsiders may realize.
"You just have to stay focused, take care of your body and be ready because those turnarounds are going to be quick," said Carmouche. "But most guys on the collegiate level have been in those types of situations, whether it's playing AAU coming up or stuff like that. It's like being back in your AAU days. A lot of guys have said they actually prefer playing back-to-back games as opposed to playing and then having to take a couple of days off."
Carmouche has been a true glue guy for Johnny Jones' first Bayou Bengal team, ranking among the top three players in four major categories (scoring – 10.8 ppg, third; rebounding – 4.1 rpg, third; assists – 3.6, second; and steals – 1.9, second).
The player indicated that one of his bigger regrets about this season, though, was not being able to go in the first Georgia game, contested in Athens on Jan. 19. "My knee had kinda flared up. I couldn't really get out there and play."
LSU dropped that game, its fourth straight loss to start the SEC slate, by a final of 67-58. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a no-doubt first-team All-SEC player and someone Carmouche likely would've seen plenty of time on defensively, scored a game-high 22 points, dished out five assists and had six steals.
Carmouche looks back on it as one that got away.
"I think it was a winnable game," he recalled. "At that time we weren't playing good basketball, going through a struggle at the beginning of the SEC. That was our fourth straight loss. They were a big, physical team, but I think we had every opportunity to win that game."
He knows that this time around, to win a game LSU desperately needs, containing Caldwell-Pope is priority number one.
"He can get to the rim. He can shoot it real well. He's just a complete player," said Carmouche. "We're just going to have to be disciplined, try to limit his touches and get into him the whole game, not letting him get comfortable at all because he's capable of scoring in bunches and taking over a game."
Asked if he expects to draw the defensive assignment of Caldwell-Pope solely, Carmouche felt he's more likely to share it with Andre Stringer, who's fresh off of running around screens aplenty trying to keep up with Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson.
"I think we'll both play on him, but I really don't know for sure right now because they have another wing guy (6-4, 205-pound freshman Charles Mann) who's pretty big," explained Carmouche. "We'll see, but I'm thinking I'll go in and I'll start on him, and that will be my matchup."
Jones said Monday it will be a huge lift to have Carmouche in this Georgia game for his prowess on both ends of the floor.
"I think it will helps us," said Jones. "I think we can have an opportunity to show him (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) some different looks that we weren't able to the first initial time that we played them. They're more improved and a better basketball team. Other guys have given them some really quality time since that game, but I think also we're a much-improved team since we played them the first time.
"I think with the addition of Carmouche and the way that he's played, he gives us some other dimensions I think not only defensively but offensively, that will really help us as well."
On the injury front Carmouche has dealt with a sore knee all season long, but he recently added another knock to his list when he went tumbling to the floor early in the Ole Miss game, aggravating his lower back. The tough-minded Carmouche insists he's fine.
"I'm doing good," he said with a bit of a laugh. "I'm going to do whatever to be out there, so I'll be ready no matter what come Thursday."
He finished by saying he would be in attendance at practice Monday, although Carmouche almost sounded unsure how involved he may be. Either way, the senior senses it's a big time of year.
"I'm going to practice and I'll at least get out there because I need to be out there with the team," continued Carmouche. "Getting ready and going into the (SEC) Tournament, we need everybody to buy in and be there. It's time to get ready and go because it's a new type of ballgame. It's win or go home now."
Tourney time familiar for veteran Carmouche
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