It was an overall successful Thanksgiving run in the land of Disney for the Tigers (5-2), who enter a dead period for exams and don't play again until Dec. 14, at home versus ULM. While the action on the court has come to a halt, TSD will review the biggest storylines pertaining to LSU basketball, taking the Tigers' pulse following the Old Spice Classic.
- Inside/Out: Figuring out where and how to use Jarell Martin
Even though this was a hotly debated topic going back to preseason team workouts, it's really coming to the surface for all LSU fans now because Martin is finally back in the lineup from his ankle injury (notice I didn't use the word "healthy") and playing regularly. He dipped a toe in versus Southeastern, but Martin was thrown into the deep end in Orlando, playing 23 minutes in the St. Joe's opener and 31 minutes apiece in the Tigers' final two games.
The results weren't bad: Martin averaged 11.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.0 steal, shot 54.5% from the floor and didn't miss a free throw in eight attempts. But the obvious question was still begged during all three games – Isn't he a better fit at the four instead of the three? The answer, unequivocally, is yes, but a longer look at the construction of LSU's rotation shows it's not quite that simple for Johnny Jones and the coaching staff.
What's unavoidable is the fact that Martin, Jordan Mickey and Johnny O'Bryant would all be best inside, specifically at the four, in the confines of LSU's three-out, two-in offense. But there's only room for two at a time with those guys in their optimal place. And, because Martin is the most capable of the three to step out on the perimeter (and undoubtedly due to recruiting promises), that's how Jones has rolled out his starting frontcourt so far.
So the vibe coming from LSU's camp right now is that the staff would like to carve out more minutes for Martin inside, recognizing that he's not at his most useful jacking up jumpers from the wing, but they don't know where they'll be able to find those minutes. Mickey, a must in the lineup if only for defensive purposes, is averaging 33.4 minutes a game while the veteran O'Bryant is averaging 32.0 minutes. That's 65.4 of a possible 80 minutes in the post LSU has available to dole out each game. Bottom line: These are three of the Tigers' best overall players and athletic specimens, so Jones will continue to find ways to get them on the court at the same time, but it's likely to come at the expense of Martin cozying up to his most natural position – the four.
- Bench vs. Butler: Did we see the future of LSU's SEC rotation?
Against Butler (in an overtime game, mind you), neither Darcy Malone nor John Odo played a single second. Ditto for Shane Hammink, who was dealing with food poisoning in Orlando and was more or less quarantined from the rest of the team. Now, Jones did send in Malone and Odo on Thursday night as part of a five-man, hockey-style line change versus St. Joe's, but that was as much about sending a message to his starters as anything else.
The way things shook out in the Butler game, one that was ultra-competitive and required LSU's best effort, seems pretty indicative of what to expect going forward. There will without question be games, like Tennessee, where Odo especially may become an essential for 8-10 minutes to help defensively with multiple bigs, but, all lineup considerations equal, look for the Tigers to go eight deep in their regular SEC rotation. To accommodate more time for Martin in the post, as discussed above, it may just be the only way to go.
The eight, for anybody scratching his/her head: Anthony Hickey, Andre Stringer, Jarell Martin, Jordan Mickey, Johnny O'Bryant, Tim Quarterman, Malik Morgan and Shavon Coleman.
- Still Inconsistent: On-court chemistry a work in progress
One thing I can tell you from being in Orlando and interviewing other coaches – like Oklahoma State's Travis Ford, Memphis' Josh Pastner – is that nobody's sleeping on LSU's talent this year. Ford called LSU one of the most talented, athletic teams in the country while Pastner referred to Jones' Tigers on multiple occasions as a no-doubt NCAA Tournament team.
The biggest issue with the accumulation of talent is that many of the integral pieces to the puzzle are freshmen, still trying to find their place on the floor with established presences like Hickey, O'Bryant and Stringer. It was obvious during LSU's run in the Old Spice Classic, playing against a higher level of competition, that this newness does cause occasional leaks in the dam. That's to be expected, but the maddening part is that it's not always the same leak in the same place.
Against Memphis, LSU's vice was the turnover. The Bayou Bengals gave it away 24 times, compared to only 10 from Memphis. O'Bryant by himself had 10 turnovers on that Friday night. Against Butler, an almost inexplicable failure to hit the boards nearly did in LSU. The Tigers, who've been among the best teams in America rebounding in the early going, were out-rebounded 48-36 and gave up 18 offensive boards to a smaller team in Butler. Throw in two off games in a row to end the tournament for Stringer and one for Hickey, and it's very safe to say this Tiger team isn't pumping on all cylinders just yet.
- Versatile Wings: Coleman, Morgan made important statements off bench
Senior Shavon Coleman and sophomore Malik Morgan may not be starters for the Tigers, but they both had an enormous impact on LSU's win over Butler Sunday and showed over the entire tournament why they'll be very important (and largely reliable) for Jones this season.
In the Butler game, LSU had a combined zero points from Hickey and Stringer through 39-plus minutes. But the Tigers didn't fall on their face because Coleman and Morgan upped their play when called upon, playing a combined 48 minutes (the two combined to average 24.3 minutes in the first two games), each scoring 12 points and giving added length on defense (Morgan had three steals against the Bulldogs).
It wasn't just the Butler contest, though, considering Jones opted to go more with Morgan/Coleman than Stringer in the second half against Memphis, stating openly after the game he needed more length defensively on the perimeter. Coleman, who scored 16 points in the first two games in 24 total minutes, has flourished offensively in spurts now that he's back on the perimeter and gives a solid defensive presence. Morgan, who at 3.7 boards a game is a wonderful rebounding guard, is a little streakier offensively, dependent upon the three, but he also had at least one steal in all three games in Orlando.
Jones and LSU won't anticipate disappearances from Hickey and Stringer often, but, due to the abilities and readiness of Coleman and Morgan, he's got backup plans when needed. And, even more importantly, those two have gained confidence and earned even more trust from Jones this past week that they can handle double-digit minutes off the bench every game and be productive.
- Backcourt Shuffling: Picture behind starters becoming clearer
There are two primary bullet points to discuss under this header, and one is a bit more speculation than the other. The more tangible movement, noticeable to all, is that Tim Quarterman is playing a lot more off the ball these days. In a very similar fashion to the way Martin has been handled, it seems clear recruiting promises were being fulfilled to Quarterman – namely that he'll play at the point. Now, he will absolutely continue to steal some minutes at the one, but Jones has described recently and clearly put into action a plan to try Quarterman more as an off-guard.
The second item of discussion is something that happened in Orlando that accentuated Quarterman's evolving role even more definitely. On two separate occasions, once against St. Joe's and once against Memphis (I believe), Quarterman and Morgan were in together in the backcourt, and it was Morgan who brought the ball up and, offensively, manned the point guard position.
Going back to preseason workouts, Jones was clear he has been seeking a third point guard behind Hickey and Quarterman for this season. He said then he'd prefer that person not be Stringer, either. Well, it would seem for now at least that Jones has landed on Morgan, and really it makes a good level of sense given Morgan's ball-handling background from his prep days. Anyway, this will be something worth monitoring as the season goes on, but don't be surprised if Morgan continues to eat up a few minutes a game at the one for Jones as he tinkers with his lineup pre-SEC season.
LSU Basketball: Post-Orlando Pulse