Right down the line

After Johnny O'Bryant announced he'd stick around campus one more year, the outlook for LSU basketball in 2013-14 has changed. TSD's Ben Love measures the impact O'Bryant's return will have on the Tigers in the upcoming season.

One more year.

That's what many in Tiger Nation wanted from Johnny O'Bryant, and, after a somewhat surprising (and confusing) press conference earlier this week, that's exactly what they got.

O'Bryant announced his intentions to return for his junior season in 2013-14, putting off for at least another year his quest to play professional basketball. It was, to say the least, a remarkably cogent and mature decision from the former McDonald's All-American, who has an opportunity to elevate his individual stock in a major way with another year of seasoning.

But exactly what does it mean for LSU next season and how does O'Bryant's return affect the product Johnny Jones plans to put on the floor in 2013-14?

For starters, taking a purely numerical view, the Tigers will now have an established nine-man rotation of SEC-caliber players. It's been a long time since any LSU team has been able to make that claim with a straight face. O'Bryant will be joined in the frontcourt by center John Odo and incoming freshmen Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, both athletic, but post-oriented players. In the backcourt Jones has at his disposal returning players Anthony Hickey, Andre Stringer, Malik Morgan and Shavon Coleman to go with a new face in Tim Quarterman.

That's a pretty full and talented roster considering Jones' Tigers were only able to field 11 total scholarship players this past season. It also doesn't even take into account experienced players like Shane Hammink and Jalen Courtney, both capable of giving 5-10 minutes in SEC action in a pinch.

The most profound effect of O'Bryant coming back, though, is that everyone will be able to man the position for which they're best suited.

Coleman will exclusively feature at the three, a spot from which he torched the likes of Georgia for 24 points in the SEC Tournament. That comes in stark contrast to times when Coleman was forced to play at the four, resulting in him disappearing against teams with bigger front lines like Ole Miss. The rising senior will be a force off the bench or in the starting lineup from the wing.

Mickey, who seems most comfortable as an undersized post player, can now play the three when it's advantageous for LSU. Without O'Bryant the high-flying freshman would almost had to have spent all of his time in the post at the four, which would have resulted in more than a few bad defensive matchups for Mickey.

The same principle actually has a trickle-down effect on perimeter players like Hammink, Quarterman and Morgan. Now that the Tigers have a solid inside core of Martin, O'Bryant and Odo, those other wings will be able to work around the big guys, not have to contribute toward filling in the gaps in the paint (through things like double teams and crashing the boards more for offensive rebounds), which would have been the case sans O'Bryant.

Then there's the fact that freshmen can be freshmen with O'Bryant back in the fold.

Don't misunderstand it: Martin still has the potential to be a serious candidate for SEC Freshman of the Year. The only difference is, with O'Bryant around, he doesn't have to be that guy for LSU to win. Martin can adjust to the flow of the game at his own speed and be the best Robin LSU's had in a long time. Life would've been a lot harder had he been asked to be Batman from day one (comic book references now over).

Mickey can also ease into the game and feel his way on the court both offensively and defensively, knowing he'll always have at least one player, but probably two, behind him with great size. One can only imagine the ways that will free him up defensively to be a shot-blocking terror from behind and while helping the post.

O'Bryant's decision also means one other freshman may have the opportunity to do something no LSU frosh has done in a while: redshirt. Seven-foot Australian import Darcy Malone won't be forced into action now unless Jones wants it that way. But, should Jones desire, he could let Malone sit and watch for a year while lifting to build on his frame, making him a more viable SEC big when the day comes that O'Bryant, Odo and probably Martin aren't around anymore.

Finally, last but not least, O'Bryant's return means the recuperation of the most points and rebounds put up by any Tiger in 2012-13. O'Bryant averaged 13.6 points per game as a sophomore while shooting 48.0% from the field and grabbing 8.7 rebounds an outing. Compare that to his stats as a freshman, when the Cleveland, Miss., native averaged 8.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and shot 39.9%.

It may not be reasonable to expect that type of jump in production again, not with so much more frontcourt talent coming aboard, but it is completely within the realm of possibility that each of those numbers and percentages rises slightly while O'Bryant becomes a more efficient player, getting more done in slightly less time.

He gives LSU solidified depth, bona fide numbers and the freedom to use players as intended and experiment with a variety of lineups. Not in a long time has the return of any individual Bayou Bengal meant quite this much.

The end result: Barring injury or something unforeseen at this time, the Tigers project as one of the top four or five teams in an improved SEC and should be a lock to make the Big Dance.

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