On the Bounce

The Tigers won one and dropped one in week two of SEC play, moving to 11-5 overall. TSD publisher Ben Love examines how LSU's forwards are adjusting to more pressure from opposing defenses and what Jarell Martin has been doing effectively off the bench.

It was another one-up, one-down week for LSU basketball that began on a sour note but finished with a flourish. This time around, however, the Tigers were quite competitive in defeat and resounding in their home victory over the weekend.

Johnny Jones' men took a slim lead into the final minute at Tad Smith Coliseum in Oxford Wednesday night, but the game went into overtime when Anthony Hickey rimmed out a 12-footer at the end of regulation. Ole Miss ran wild in the extra period, beating LSU 88-74 in a game that got away from the Tigers. LSU rebounded to take care of Vanderbilt 81-58 in the PMAC Saturday night to knot its conference record.

LSU now stands at 11-5 overall, 2-2 in SEC play.

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 through the end of the 2013-14 season.

1. LSU frontcourt still learning to produce in the crosshairs

There's been a not-so-subtle shift that's occurred in the way opponents have guarded the Tigers this season. Given Anthony Hickey's reputation and Andre Stringer's strong start to the campaign (he averaged 18.2 ppg through the first five games), teams spent the early portion of 2013-14 trying to take away LSU's perimeter weapons. As the games went by and Jordan Mickey blossomed into a legitimate threat at the four, next to Johnny O'Bryant, the book on the Bayou Bengals changed – and with it, so too have the defensive approaches to stopping LSU, which makes no bones about wanting to play inside-out.

O'Bryant lifted LSU with his play Saturday night
I believe what Ole Miss threw at the Tigers Wednesday night will become the blueprint for what a lot of teams will do, namely playing zone and sagging down with lengthy wings that can be effective in double-team situations. The Rebels admittedly had the type of personnel (Jarvis Summers, Ladarius White) to bother O'Bryant on a double, but that's no excuse for how poorly he and Mickey played in that game. LSU's two frontcourt starters combined for eight points on 2-of-10 shooting and 10 rebounds. The ball movement was also fairly stagnant, with timely kick-outs from double-teams lacking and limited motion without the ball from perimeter players. So Ole Miss all but eliminated LSU's two biggest producers and forced Andre Stringer to beat them, which he couldn't despite a career-high 23 points.

To JOB's credit, he responded in a big way versus Vanderbilt Saturday night. The Commodores also played a lot zone and put the focus on stopping LSU's forwards, but the Tigers were better prepared for it. As Jones said after the game: "We were able to put a little bit of a wrinkle in the last couple of days of practice. It was something that we needed in terms of our movement. We wanted to make sure that our high-low action was there." It was, as O'Bryant, Mickey and Jarell Martin all played together nicely and shared on the inside. O'Bryant, who got to the line a season-high 14 times, finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds, his first double-double since the Southeastern (La.) game Nov. 22, while Mickey added 13 points and five rebounds. It's an ongoing process, but for LSU to be successful this season the Tigers will have to learn how to get their bigs going even when they're the primary focus of the opposition's defense.

2. Martin continues to play better ball off the bench

It was discussed at length in this space a week ago how LSU's shift in the starting five frees up Martin to play the right position and for longer periods of time. So while there's no need to defend that case again, the sample size of numbers is now larger to quantify just how good Martin has been in his new role.

Since Jones made the move three games ago, Martin is averaging 14.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals in 23.3 minutes while shooting 56.0% from the field and 82.4% from the line. What's more, playing on the interior regularly has helped jumpstart Martin's activity level. Of those 6.0 rebounds over the last three outings, 3.7 have come on the offensive end, where Martin is helping Mickey and O'Bryant keep more possessions alive.

The only question that remains at this point is how Martin, a former McDonald's All-American, will take coming off the bench? He's given semi-differing takes on that in the last three days. Here's what Martin told NOLA.com's Randy Rosetta on Friday: "I'm still upset a little bit, but it's something I've got to fight through. I'm doing good coming off the bench, and I'm glad we're playing better. I'm trying to not let it get to me. I'm staying focused and looking at the big picture." And then here's what he told me after Saturday night's win when asked if coming off the bench matters to him: "No sir, not at all. I know my minutes will be the same, so I just go in there and try to contribute and do whatever's there for my team."

If Martin can stay focused and reflect more of the latter than former viewpoint, he'll quickly realize how much this move has done for his game (and for LSU).

3. Hardest part for LSU: Getting multiple pistons pumping

Over the first 16 games of this season, whether opponents have keyed more on LSU's wings or post players, there's been one common denominator for Jones – it's been almost impossible to get several of his most productive players going at the same time in the same game. This is also undoubtedly been the most frustrating part of the season for LSU fans.

The season-long trend was again on display this week: Stringer scored 23 points and made five threes on Wednesday only to score 10 points on one made three Saturday … O'Bryant tallied six points and five rebounds at Ole Miss before exploding for 22 and 12 versus Vanderbilt … Malik Morgan picked up three early fouls and went scoreless in four minutes of play at Ole Miss before making 4-of-5 shots in 21 minutes versus the ‘Dores … Tim Quarterman made 1-of-3 free throws and turned it over twice in six minutes in Oxford before bouncing back against Vandy with seven points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes.

Look, it's college basketball. In some respects all of this is to be expected as these guys aren't professionals yet and most never will be. But the lack of consistency has been a killer for LSU. Not knowing where offense is going to come from, especially in crucial spots, has limited this Tiger team. The same concept applies to not knowing what kind of pace a given game will have. If Anthony Hickey stays out of foul trouble and is making good decisions, LSU is a vastly different animal. If one or both of those things isn't the case or an opposing defense schemes to minimize Hickey's speed in transition, then the Tigers are forced to become a halfcourt team. That's where the ups and downs have taken a toll, and to beat the good teams LSU will need multiple members of the Hickey-Stringer-Martin-Mickey-O'Bryant core to play well simultaneously. It's up to Jones to help them click together.


Four-point play: With eight more blocks this week, freshman Jordan Mickey is now up to 57 rejections in 16 games. Mickey's 3.56-bpg average is now tops in the SEC, having eclipsed Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein, who's averaging 3.41 blocks per contest … Sophomore Shane Hammink, who reportedly looked really good in practice at the beginning of this past week, saw increased minutes in the Ole Miss game. After playing five minutes in garbage time versus Tennessee and not at all at South Carolina, Hammink was out there 14 minutes in Oxford, giving a good defensive effort on Marshall Henderson and posting two points and two boards. Jones seems to trust Hammink most when the Tigers are looking for defensive options on the wing … LSU doubled up Vanderbilt on the glass in the two teams' meeting on Saturday night. Aided by 6-foot-10 freshman Damian Jones sitting early and often with foul trouble, the Tigers ran up an obscene 48-24 advantage on the glass, a mark that included 21 offensive rebounds … At 66.2%, LSU is currently tied for 281st in the NCAA in team field-goal percentage. The Tigers, at 223 of 337 from the stripe, have already missed 114 freebies through 16 games. For comparison's sake the SEC's top FT-shooting team, Missouri, is connecting on 72.3% of its attempts.


The Tigers tip off week three of SEC play in the PMAC Tuesday night at 6 p.m. with Missouri (14-3, 2-2) in town. ESPNU will carry the television broadcast. Frank Haith's Tigers dropped a disappointing game at Vanderbilt in the midweek, 78-75, before bouncing back to trounce Alabama 68-47 in Columbia on Saturday.

Finishing up the week, LSU will trek to Tuscaloosa to play struggling Alabama (8-9, 2-2) in Coleman Coliseum Saturday night at 7 p.m. ESPN2 will carry the television broadcast. Alabama will play LSU on short rest this week, with a Thursday night home tilt versus No. 7 Florida on the docket. The Tide do however get to remain home for both games this week.

Click on the links below for additional LSU basketball coverage.

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