1. Defense is going to be an issue for this LSU team.
- The Tigers conceded 43 points in the opening half and 82 points for the game. They gave up 41 points to the frontcourt duo of Jerome Hill and Tyrell Nelson. They had only three blocks after swatting away 13 Morehouse shots in the exhibition game a week ago. In a lot of ways it was a subpar defensive effort for the purple and gold. Most alarming is how easily Gardner-Webb scored in the post, roasting LSU for 50 points in the paint, and frequently exposing what Johnny Jones called “passive” defending following the game.
Tack that on to the fact that the Tigers continue to let driving wings into the lane and are struggling to corral the pick-and-roll, and there isn’t a lot going right on that end of the floor right now. It’s early, and there’s plenty of time to patch up some of the problems, but I also think it’s fair to say this edition of LSU basketball just isn’t going to excel on that side of the floor. They’re going to have to outscore a number of teams in these high-scoring affairs. The Tigers did improve for much of the second half, going to a 2-3 zone with more Elbert Robinson III in the middle, but there’s a lot of going back to the drawing board that needs to happen on defense. Returning Jordan Mickey to his shot-blocking aggressive self is step one.
2. When Keith Hornsby gets rolling, Tigers are tough to stop.
- LSU trailed by one at the half but came out with better intensity to begin the final 20 minutes. It also came out with a dialed-in Hornsby. The junior guard, in his first official action in 20 months, was red-hot to lift the Tigers out of a lull and turn a deficit into a double-digit lead. He scored nine of the team’s 11 points during a span, and LSU, until a near-disastrous end, never really looked back after getting that cushion.
Hornsby did it going to the goal, firing up long twos and, of course, connecting from deep, which he did three times on seven attempts Saturday. The biggest thing to note when Hornsby is clicking is that LSU has three legitimate scorers on the floor at the same time, along with Jarell Martin (21 points on Saturday) and Josh Gray (18). That makes the Tigers very difficult to defend. Jones even said after the ballgame that Hornsby gave the team a significant spark and that he’s capable of carrying them for stretches. Good that we’re no longer just talking about Keith Hornsby. We’re seeing him in action, and we’re seeing that he can be a big difference-maker offensively.
3. Rotational guys making points, but depth still fair to question.
- The “Big Four” is entrenched as a definite 80 percent of the starting lineup for LSU. Based off what we’ve seen in the last week, Robinson is the fifth starter at center for the time being. But there are plenty of guys putting a bid in for the sixth and seventh spots (and, versus certain lineups, maybe even an occasional starting nod). Among this group: Tim Quarterman, Aaron Epps, Jalyn Patterson and even Brian Bridgewater.
Quarterman was the first sub into the game, and he finished with seven points, two assists, a steal and made all four of his free throws. Epps, who subbed in first during the second half, performed well in non-scoring categories, blocking all three of LSU’s shots, grabbing a steal, four rebounds and dishing out an assist. Patterson ended strong, scoring five points and pulling down five rebounds late while Bridgewater sank a pick-and-pop jumper in the first half and then didn’t play in the second stanza. Still, when you break it down, the Big Four poured in 77 of 93 points Saturday. If that’s any indication of how things will go, the subs who can do the other things for LSU – defend, block shots, rebound – will see the most minutes.