Johnny Jones’ crew began the week that was on Tuesday with a 68-62 setback to Texas A&M in College Station, allowing a combined 36 points to Danuel House and Kourtney Roberson and, in the process, finalizing an Aggie sweep on the season. The Bayou Bengals rebounded with a 70-63 home win over Florida on Saturday, paced by a career-high 28 points from Jarell Martin while completing a purple-and-gold sweep of the Gators in 2015.
LSU now stands at 19-8 overall, 8-6 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.
1. LSU needs Martin locked and loaded down the stretch
It’s never been about potential with Jarell Martin. During his two-year run at LSU it’s always been about delivering on the obvious physical goods and producing consistently. When engaged offensively and (this part’s important) not encumbered by foul trouble, Martin is as dangerous an offensive weapon as there is in the SEC – and that includes Bobby Portis, Devin Booker, Karl-Anthony Towns, Stefan Moody, Danuel House, you name ‘em.
That much is evident from Martin’s two-game run through Florida this season. In the home-and-home versus Billy Donovan’s squad, Martin, a sophomore, posted a combined 50 points, 21 rebounds and went to the charity stripe a whopping 24 times (making 18).
Jones discussed Martin’s acrobatic, run-igniting dunk in the first half on Saturday and his overall impact in LSU’s win: “The steal that Jarell had and the basket that he made was huge. I’m not sure that at that time of the game we needed all of the other extra there. That is a lesson learned, but I’m glad it went in and we were able to make the basket. At the same time, I thought it gave us a great deal of energy, because we came right back with another steal on the open floor and scored another basket. I thought Jarell gave us a lot of energy and played extremely well throughout the game today. He was aggressive enough to get to the free-throw line 16 times.”
But Martin is still capable of pulling a Houdini. He battled foul trouble throughout the A&M game, only logging 24 minutes before fouling out with 13 points and six rebounds while attempting only four free throws. He’s also had the following point totals in SEC games this season: four, seven, nine (twice) and 10.
Jordan Mickey in many scenarios will be LSU’s most productive player, certainly statistically, but the Tigers need Martin on night-in and night-out to put them over the top offensively and put sufficient pressure on opposing defenses. Staying out of foul trouble and retaining an attacking mindset are the biggest keys for the former Madison Prep star.
Side Notes: There are a few interesting conclusions to draw from Martin’s cumulative SEC stats through 14 games. His averages: 14.4 points, 8.9 rebounds (3.0 offensive), 49.7% FGs, 27.8% 3s and 67.1% FTs . . . The three-point percentage jumps out, but here’s the good news for LSU fans. He’s only attempted 18 total threes in 14 league contests. The memo has gotten home about where he’s best suited initiating his offense on the college level. Also, take a moment to consider that at 42 offensive rebounds, Martin is only five behind Mickey’s haul. That surprised me a bit and is another indicator that Martin is putting his time in on the interior. Finally, the free-throw percentage could definitely use a bump.
2. Game of runs not always a friendly one for the Tigers
From the 10:59 mark of the first half Saturday until the 3:21 mark, LSU did not score a point versus Florida. The Tigers were stuck on 22 the whole time while the reptiles embarked on a 13-0 run to tie the ballgame.
The Tigers are capable of creating tremendous energy, especially in the PMAC, and when they’re cooking with gas, LSU can play with just about any team. But when they don’t get that big play, and they’re forced to methodically chip away in the halfcourt, the Tigers are usually on the wrong end of runs.
More examples from Tuesday’s loss to the Aggies: Texas A&M ended the game on a 7-1 run in the final two minutes to win by six . . . To end the first half, LSU went on a 24-5 run. But that was only after falling down 11 (21-10) in the opening 8.5 minutes and then, beginning at the 12:04 mark of the second half, allowing A&M to go on a 12-0 run to reverse what was an eight-point LSU lead.
The Tigers’ runs may be the biggest and shine brightest on the highlight reel, but will they go on runs most often? That’s usually the team that wins. And with the high minutes LSU’s core of five or six players log, it’s a fair question.
3. Magic number is more about seeding, not win total
This is a familiar concept to TSD members as I’ve been singing its praises for the last two weeks. In this particular season, in this conference, it’s become more important where you’re seeded in the league than your overall and SEC win totals when it comes to chances of getting into the Big Dance.
During interviews Saturday, Jones said he believes the league could get six teams into the NCAA Tournament. In my estimation that number is more likely to be four or five. And now there’s legitimate separation between the top four teams in the SEC (Kentucky, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Ole Miss) and teams ranked fifth (LSU) and sixth (Georgia).
So it’s really up to what those teams do versus one another down the home stretch. This week will tell a lot of the story as both Georgia and LSU, two games behind the Rebels, have a crack at Ole Miss while Arkansas will play Texas A&M and Kentucky in the next six days.
Back to Jones’ opinion on the subject. He stated that, all other things equal, should LSU enter the SEC Tournament seeded fourth or fifth, the Tigers would feel good about their chances of crashing the NCAAs.
He’s got a valid point considering even I believe four or five SEC teams will get in, but here’s the rub. There’s still the SEC Tournament and seeding could be tricky for bubble teams.
The five-seed, on Thursday afternoon, plays the winner of 12 vs. 13 (if the season ended today that would be either South Carolina or Auburn). That leaves the five-seed in prime position to score a much-needed win for its tournament hopes.
The four-seed, on Friday afternoon (after receiving a bye), plays the winner of 5 vs. 12/13 (so probably a team like Georgia). That’s a tougher spot to get a win, and, should the five-seed win again and only four teams make it to the NCAAs, which team of the two do you think is getting in?
It’s for that reason I believe LSU has to end the season 3-1 and win a game in Nashville to put on its dancing shoes.
UP NEXTThe Tigers begin the week on the road at Auburn (12-15, 4-10), looking for payback from a War Eagle win in Baton Rouge several weeks ago. Tipoff on the Plains Tuesday night is set for 6 p.m. Central Time and ESPNU will carry the television broadcast.
After the long rest LSU will return to the PMAC on Saturday for a matchup with surging Ole Miss (19-8, 10-4). The Tigers and Rebels will tip off in the House that Pete Built at 1 p.m. Central Time and FSN will carry the ballgame.