Johnny Jones' crew won all three contests – vs. ULM (61-54), at Texas Tech (71-69), vs. UAB (86-63), virtually ensuring that LSU will enter SEC play a two-loss team with only home dates versus McNeese State and Rhode Island on the docket before Tennessee comes calling on Baton Rouge Jan. 7 for both teams' conference opener.
LSU now stands at 8-2 overall.
Below I provide three 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 (once SEC play tips off) through the end of the 2013-14 season.
1. Martin, Quarterman still finding their games at LSU
With all the success Jordan Mickey (13.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.6 bpg) has enjoyed to begin his career in purple and gold, it's taking longer for fellow freshmen Jarell Martin and Tim Quarterman to get acclimated to not only the college game, but the specific roles LSU is asking them to play. Martin, on top of mentally and physically moving past a high ankle sprain suffered in the opener, is making the transition from a face-up big in high school to more of a perimeter-based wing while Quarterman is being slotted more off the ball than he's used to from his prep days as a point guard.
There was a very palpable feeling of frustration from Martin last week after the team's trip to Lubbock. The Madison Prep product revealed he has still been thinking about his ankle while playing too much and also vented a little about his role in LSU's offense, one he said was mostly about getting the ball into the team's two big men (Mickey and Johnny O'Bryant) and playing inside-out. Martin took some of that frustration out on UAB, scoring 10 first-half points (including two made threes) and looking more assertive on the floor Saturday. He's still a work-in-progress, and Coach Jones continues to say Martin will be worked in at the four, but there's no denying he's playing out of position at least somewhat when he's at the three. And LSU's system, three-out and two-in, isn't changing. So the adaptation will have to come on the part of Martin, the only member of the Tiger frontcourt athletic enough to play on the perimeter.
As for Quarterman, he played his best game in an LSU uniform versus UAB, scoring nine points on 3-of-5 shooting (2-of-3 from downtown) to go with a game-high nine assists and two steals in 22 minutes of action. He saw increased minutes due to foul trouble for Anthony Hickey early and often, but the Savannah, Ga., native made the best of it, whether he was playing the point or off the ball, next to either Andre Stringer or Malik Morgan. Quarterman also looked his most comfortable when the game sped up and LSU was able to get out in transition. As one team source told me after the game (and I paraphrase), "When Tim got here, he saw how often Anthony was putting up threes, so he felt like he had to do the same. That's not his game. The more he's been able to get in motion and see the floor, the better he's been." Of course what will keep Quarterman on the floor all year are his abilities in man defense against any perimeter position. The staff is very pleased with him in that department.
2. Coleman playing above his numbers as a senior
In Coleman's junior season, his first at LSU, the Thibodeaux native averaged 10.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 28.1 minutes a game. He's coming off the bench now, and playing almost 10 minutes less per contest, but Coleman is still impacting games. He's shooting 50.0% from the floor (compared to 44.7% last season) and 44.0% from deep (30.2% last season), the latter being the area where Coleman has grown the most. A more consistent stroke from outside has buoyed this team on nights (like the Butler game) when Stringer isn't hitting. He also gives Jones a completely different lineup option at the three than Martin, who starts at the position. That type of versatility, especially on the defensive end, has been critical for the Tigers against several opponents already this season.
3. Perimeter defending has been a struggle through 10 games
With few exceptions (Coleman and Quarterman), LSU's perimeter defense has left a lot to be desired to begin the 2013-14 campaign. Far too often Tiger defenders are letting opposing guards and wings into the lane with ease, putting pressure on the likes of frontcourt players Jordan Mickey, all too ready to jump and contest shots as it is, and Johnny O'Bryant, a player who's been foul-prone for three years.
The end result has been problems with foul trouble inside and, to make up for the mistakes in half-court man defense, foul trouble in the backcourt as players like Hickey and Morgan begin to use their hands instead. This will be a major point worth monitoring once SEC play arrives – Can LSU's perimeter defenders adapt to the new rules and still be effective? If not, and the matador approach becomes habitual, that celebrated depth the Tigers have will be tested too much and the key players won't spend enough time on the floor. Oh, and the opposition will live at the free throw line. In fact it's already starting to head in that direction. Opponents have shot 217 free throws (making 70.5%) to 194 attempts from LSU, which is making only 64.9% from the charity stripe. In the last two games, Texas Tech and UAB attempted a combined 65 freebies. LSU in those two games? 35 attempts. The correction there has to start on the perimeter.
After a break for Christmas, LSU will get back on the floor Dec. 28 at 7 p.m. in the PMAC versus McNeese State (2-9) before hosting Rhode Island (7-5) Jan. 4 at 7 p.m.
On the Bounce, 12/23