In the final installment of TSD's three-part "Season in Review" series, I take a look at how the 2012-13 team blends into the upcoming 2013-14 edition of LSU basketball.
To read part one, looking back at the guard play from this past season, CLICK HERE.
To read part two, examining the Tigers' post play from this past season, CLICK HERE.
Blending into the Future
Johnny Jones' debut season in TigerTown tipped off with only 11 scholarship players on the roster, a number which included Andrew Del Piero, a converted tuba player and previously a walk-on to the team, and Charles Carmouche, a very late addition who came in as a senior transfer from Memphis over the summer.
It's probably an understatement then that for whatever favors Trent Johnson did Jones in the way of APR, he did quite the opposite when it came to stocking the cupboard with talent and filling out the LSU bench.
Still, with four players already signed for 2013 (Jarell Martin, Jordan Mickey, John Odo and Tim Quarterman) and another having given his commitment (Darcy Malone), the drive to 13 – the maximum number of scholarship players allowed – is well underway for next season.
But, while the 2013-14 squad will be heavily influenced by the influx of newcomers, the backbone of the team will consist of returning veterans, especially on the perimeter.
It starts with Anthony Hickey.
Jones was insistent in his season-recap press conference that there is no such thing as "his guys," that players here before he took over are just as valuable and dear to him as new talent coming in that he personally selected and recruited. Be that as it may, the irony with Hickey, a Johnson recruit, is he's a Jones-type of player to a tee.
Hickey led the SEC in steals and finished among the top players in the country in that department, igniting fast breaks and becoming the spark plug of the team's full-court press. He struggled the more the game slowed down, but that's not as much of the plan for next season. One of the things Jones has said he's most excited about is doing what LSU did in spurts this season – pressing, trapping, getting into the open court – for longer durations in 2013-14, thanks to greater, more talented depth.
With Hickey leading a more consistently up-tempo attack, a pair of wing shooters from this year's team will be pivotal to success next year. Andre Stringer and Malik Morgan, entering their senior and sophomore seasons, respectively, are the Tigers' floor-spacers (and stretchers).
Stringer has improved his shooting percentages incrementally every year he's been in Baton Rouge. He shot 33.4% from the field and 29.5% from deep as a freshman; 34.9% and 31.7% as a sophomore; and 39.6% and 40.9% this past season as a junior. It's that final number that should be most encouraging to fans. If Stringer can improve on 40.9% from beyond the arc in his final season on campus, LSU will be a very difficult team to defend.
Then there's Morgan. Of all the players the Bayou Bengals return, he has the most potential, and I'm not even sure it's a debate at this point. A sweet-shooting lefty who doesn't mind mixing it up in the paint, Morgan is LSU's best slasher in the halfcourt as well as its best rebounding guard. To play in Jones' system, it helps immeasurably if you can play above your position/height. Morgan can do that, and, for that reason, I think he's in for a big sophomore campaign.
It's also important to note at this juncture the help Hickey, Stringer and Morgan will get in the backcourt from Quarterman. With his added athleticism and length, shorter guards Hickey and Stringer won't draw bad defensive matchups for entire games in 2013-14. Jones will also have the option of deploying different lineups, giving Stringer and Morgan more favorable matchups on offense and ultimately infusing more creativity to an offense that too many times became stagnant against set defenses in 2012-13.
Perimeter players who figure to be strictly backups include Corban Collins and Shane Hammink. There's bigger upside with Hammink, who Jones is insistent can play the four in his system. Depending on how things unfold with the next guy up, Jones may have to rely on Hammink at forward more than he'd like next season.
Moving into the post, there's no bigger matter for LSU basketball this offseason than the decision on Johnny O'Bryant's plate. O'Bryant, who averaged 13.6 points and 8.7 boards as a sophomore, upped his numbers across the board in 2012-13 as the Tigers' only viable big man playing more than 15 minutes per game.
Should he return for his junior season, LSU is still going to have to lean heavily on new bodies – Odo at center, Martin and occasionally Mickey at the four – to man the interior. Should he decide to go pro (a decision based more on family than readiness), it's going to be all newness in the paint, something that would not bode well for the team's chances at immediate success.
Clearly the outlook for the 2013-14 Tigers hinges a great deal on what O'Bryant will do. Here's a quick glance at LSU's frontline with and without the big man from Cleveland, Miss.
With O'Bryant: JOB can play comfortably off Odo, garnering much better defensive matchups, more like the ones he saw as a freshman playing off Justin Hamilton. Martin becomes a player who can be used at the three more often and makes LSU an incredibly long team. Shavon Coleman is almost strictly used as a three, back to where he more naturally belongs. And newcomer Darcy Malone more than likely redshirts.
Without O'Bryant: Martin will play almost exclusively at the four, pitting him up against much thicker, tougher and less desirable defensive matchups (think players like Murphy Holloway and Laurence Bowers). Odo will probably be asked to do more offensively than he's really capable of at this point in his development. Coleman will have to play down in the post more, as he did this past season. Jalen Courtney will be a bigger factor than the team probably would like in order to have optimal success. And there's no way on this green earth Malone redshirts.
Big differences there. But that's the reality of what's at stake with O'Bryant as it pertains to this coming season.
LSU is in good shape to continue the program's ascent under Johnny Jones in 2013-14, but a noticeable spike in productivity, and ultimately wins, likely depends on whether or not one eligible returnee opts to join the Tigers for one more go-round.
LSU Season Review, Part Three
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