LSU basketball got off to a 6-2 start to the season before entering exam week, and the Tigers did it in an unexpected way.
After dropping a pair of games in the Virgin Islands to Old Dominion and Clemson, Johnny Jones’ crew bounced back to thump Massachusetts by 22 and then steal the type of road victory at No. 16 West Virginia the likes of which Tiger fans haven’t seen in at least six seasons.
Now that LSU is taking exams and on hiatus – by the time the team tips Saturday versus Sam Houston State, it’ll have been off nine days – TSD is taking a closer look at the state of the Bayou Bengals.
CLICK HERE for yesterday’s examination of LSU’s perimeter players.
Next up: combing through LSU’s post players.
It’s amazing what freeing up shots (Johnny O’Bryant averaged 12.0 attempts a game last season) and space in the middle (again, see O’Bryant) can do for a player like Martin. The 6-foot-10 sophomore forward is thriving with more of an attacking mindset and lanes to drive. So far he’s LSU’s leader in minutes played (35.0 mpg), scoring (16.1 ppg) and is tied for the lead in rebounding (9.4 rpg). He’s also become more active defensively, averaging 1.8 steals a game, and, most importantly, is a free-throw line magnet. Martin, shooting 78.3% from the stripe, has gotten to the line 46 times. That’s double the next guys in line as Tim Quarterman and Josh Gray have both attempted 23 apiece. LSU needs a player that can get an easy point or two at virtually any time. The one downside to his season through eight games: Martin is 1-of-19 from three. The less he messes around on the perimeter, the more lethal this walking mismatch gets for the Tigers.
Where Martin has improved at getting to the line and hitting the glass with regularity, Mickey has gotten better with his overall offensive game. I’ve been guilty of putting him in a box, stating that he’ll get his primarily on putbacks offensively. Not anymore. Look, he’s not going to pull out a Dream Shake move any time soon, but Mickey is becoming formidable at the high block and his mid-range shot is coming along. The sophomore is averaging 15.6 points (hurt in big way by scoring only four at WVU due to foul trouble), 9.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while playing 34.0 minutes an outing. He sat out one game for precautionary reasons with a tweaked ankle, but Mickey should be healthy now entering the home stretch of non-conference play. His defensive assignments aren’t always as plush as they were a season ago, now required to play some time at the five (and explaining the drop-off in blocks), but Mickey is off to a strong start in 2014-15.
Odo has become LSU’s fifth starter over the last four games, playing a de facto center role. Prior to that he only featured in two of the Tigers’ first four contests. That gives you an idea of how much the staff is starving for someone ready for college basketball to man the five and make life easier on Mickey. Odo, however, is doing the best he can with his skillset. Always good for five fouls on defense and a legitimate banger on the boards, the physical Odo is averaging 3.0 points and 1.5 rebounds while playing 13.2 minutes a game. The brightest spot on Odo: He’s connected on seven of his 11 shot attempts from the floor.
Elbert Robinson III
As pleasant a surprise as Tim Quarterman has been, this is the other side of that surprise coin. The 7-foot-1 freshman center from the Lone Star State has struggled to adapt to the speed of the game and, in my opinion, to a new playing weight after shedding some 70 pounds over the last 8-10 months. Robinson started the first four games of the season but since has come off the bench, even earning a DNP-CD versus Clemson. Through eight games he’s averaged only 5.9 minutes of run and picked up an immediate flagrant foul when inserted into the West Virginia game last week. That was just another example of a player not yet adept at how to use his body. ER3 still has a good deal of upside if he can put it together, but he is now, at the minimum, a short-term project for the staff.
When called upon Bridgewater has been a serviceable option for the Tigers, playing mainly as an undersized four when Martin or Mickey need a breather. Of course, when Mickey sat out an entire game, Bridgewater showed glimpses of being more than just serviceable, posting 16 points and five boards in 22 minutes against McNeese State. He’s only playing 6.1 minutes a game on average, so Bridgewater’s role isn’t too significant, but when injury or foul trouble strikes, he’ll carve out a bigger role on any given night. All in all not a bad start to his first campaign in uniform for LSU.
The facts are the facts, and right now Malone is the least impactful scholarship player for the Tigers. The sophomore from Australia has played in half of LSU’s eight games, totaling 11 minutes of action. He occupied more of a stretch-four position a year ago, but this season Jones needs beef inside. From Martin to Bridgewater to Epps (when healthy), Jones has enough players with size who can take it out on the perimeter and are more athletic. Malone’s path to the court will come via toughness and rebounding/defending in the post. Playing time to date suggests the staff feels Odo provides both more effectively.
In-Season Observations: Post Players
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