On the Bounce

Now that LSU's season has come to a close, TSD publisher Ben Love identifies and previews the biggest storylines for the program this offseason.

With a second-round NIT loss at SMU earlier this week, LSU basketball closed another chapter in the program's history. The Tigers, in year two under Johnny Jones, ended up 20-14 in 2014.

Now that LSU's season is in the books it's time for one final edition of "On the Bounce," this time around taking stock of where the roster stands and previewing the biggest headlines going into the offseason.

Is it finally O'Bryant's time to jump?

Let's start with the closest thing there is to a formality – junior forward Johnny O'Bryant is expected to turn pro. And he should. The Cleveland, Miss., native pondered making the leap after his freshman season and flirted even harder with the notion after an All-SEC campaign as a sophomore. Now, having turned the trick two years in a row and with a more developed body, it's time for O'Bryant to put his name in the NBA Draft.

Numbers at least partly tell the story. Here's the statistical progression JOB made over three seasons in Baton Rouge.

Freshman Season – 8.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 39.9% FGs
Sophomore Season – 13.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 48.0% FGs
Junior Season – 15.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 49.% FGs

For my money he was most impressive this past season, considering the talent level around him rose and there were more mouths to feed on the offensive end. O'Bryant enjoyed his most efficient shooting season in 2013-14, his second consecutive year as the focal point of LSU's offense. He so impressed SMU coach Larry Brown, both in-person and on film prior to Monday's game, that Brown has reportedly been raving about O'Bryant to NBA scouts and brass, calling him the best big man the Mustangs faced all season. O'Bryant's stock was already on solid ground, pegged as a late first or early second-round selection, but the vote of confidence from a man revered in the Association will only help.

Simply put, there's not much for O'Bryant to gain by coming back for a fourth and final year. He's at or near the apex of his draft-ability now.

Could LSU lose a freshman forward?

This is the real biggie when it comes to offseason question marks … and expectations for the 2014-15 season. Freshmen forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey are both possible candidates to enter the draft, even though neither will project anywhere near the lottery. Mickey told reporters on March 17 that he was still "up in the air" while Martin proclaimed he was leaning toward returning to continue working on his game.

Martin came on strong late in the 2013-14 season
The reality is that both players are seeking evaluations from the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee and will await those reports to finalize their decisions, which have to be made on or before April 27. But, reading between the lines, Mickey (who averaged 12.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg and 3.1 bpg) is a virtual lock to come back while Martin (10.3 ppg and 4.6 rpg) could cause a bit more heartburn but should ultimately stay.

Mickey had the better overall season from a statistical and impact standpoint, playing in all 34 games and averaging a team-high 32.8 minutes per outing en route to earning second-team All-SEC status. His, however, is a skillset that will be difficult to translate to the professional level at 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds. Martin, at 6-foot-9 and 241 pounds, may have been an enigma to start the season, but the rangy forward really started to put the pieces together over the team's last 15 games and projects as the player whose size and skill best transfer to the NBA game.

One thing that is undeniable – both Martin and Mickey will benefit from a paint no longer filled and owned by O'Bryant. Expect his announcement, along with their feedback from the NBA, to help push the two rookies over the top in this decision.

Are any other players attrition candidates?

Last offseason the Tigers jettisoned point guard Corban Collins and senior-to-be wing Jalen Courtney in favor of late signees Keith Hornsby (transfer from UNC-Asheville) and Brian Bridgewater. There are plenty of signs pointing toward more of the same this year. After all one thing this LSU staff has made clear is it's angling for the best 13 players each and every year, even if that means change is necessary.

There are a total of four players on the radar of this discussion – Bridgewater, Shane Hammink, Malik Morgan and Tim Quarterman. One, Morgan, is still rehabbing a torn right patellar tendon, a recovery that could extend into the beginning portion of the 2014-15 slate. Morgan nearly tested transfer waters last summer only to return. Look for him to again return now that he's doing his rehab with LSU's doctors and considering the market for players battling back from serious knee injuries isn't through the roof.

Next, continuing along the spectrum from least to most likely to leave, is Quarterman, who averaged 12.3 minutes a game during his freshman campaign. The speculation surrounding Quarterman is centered around the Tigers' suddenly bloated backcourt, which will return point guard Anthony Hickey and bring in Hornsby, Josh Gray and Jalyn Patterson. Of course none of that takes into account how close Quarterman is with current teammates, especially Martin. It's my estimation he will stay, although it bears pointing out that his ride at LSU will be less bumpy the more he commits to playing off the ball.

As for the other two, Bridgewater and Hammink, it's likely neither will be on next year's roster. Bridgewater, who won an initial appeal to remain on scholarship for this academic year, never got a positive verdict on his second appeal, which would allow him to actually practice and play. It's hard to envision him occupying a scholarship spot moving forward. In the case of Hammink, a transfer is said to be eminent. After two years of minimal impact or even playing time, the writing seems to be on the wall that Hammink wants a crack at more somewhere else.

Is LSU done recruiting for this class?

Probably not. The problem is this time of year you have to get your numbers straight on who's back before definitively knowing how many more, if any, to tack on in the late signing period. So let's play the hypothetical numbers game …

If three underclassmen – Bridgewater, Hammink and O'Bryant – leave on top of two seniors (Shavon Coleman and Andre Stringer), LSU will be at eight scholarship players. The Tigers are currently sitting on four signees for 2014, meaning there would be one more spot available. From there, shift the math any way you'd like. For instance, if either Martin or Mickey goes pro or Quarterman bolts, Jones and his staff have two spots to backfill to get to 13.

On the topic of who LSU is after, don't discount the possibility of a grad-transfer who is ready to play right away and doesn't have to sit out a year. TSD's Matt McCurdy has the latest on one such target – UNLV's Bryce Dejean-Jones.

DISCUSS: What do you expect from this offseason?


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