PITTSBURGH – Now that a day has come and gone for fans to process the end of the Tigers’ season, it’s time for TSD to put a bow on the 2014-15 edition of LSU basketball.
There will be plenty of offseason news to track, and soon, with regards to coaching and player movement, but this piece is intended to analyze what happened in between the lines over the course of 33 games.
First, in a broad sense, the team was pretty consistently two up, one down. The final record of 22-11 indicates as much, but I think it’s a good microcosm of how the season always seemed to go – two steps forward, one step back.
LSU, despite superior talent to all but perhaps four or five of its opponents, never could get over the hump and stay over the hump.
The Tigers had two consensus First-Team All-SEC players in forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey. Only one other team can make that claim – No. 1 Kentucky (Willie Cauley-Stein and Karl-Anthony Towns).
Yet the Bayou Bengals were bizarrely uneven – losing a stinker in the Virgin Islands to Clemson before bouncing back to win at ranked West Virginia; falling at Missouri, one of Mizzou’s three conference wins all season, and then beating NCAA Tournament teams Georgia and Ole Miss in Oxford back-to-back; dropping consecutive games to Mississippi State and Auburn before taking Kentucky to the final horn; and losing at home to Tennessee only to beat ranked Arkansas in Fayetteville three days later without Mickey.
These are trends that are hard to explain and were all season for head coach Johnny Jones and many of the players (fast-forward to the 1:28-mark of the Tim Quarterman video below from Wednesday to see what I mean).
Without question one of the factors in LSU’s inability to close out games, or close out the end of the season (the Tigers lost three of their final four), was a lack of depth.
Simply put LSU was a tired team – in particularly Mickey, who spent most of the campaign playing the five and defending centers, a big change from a season ago when Johnny O’Bryant was in tow. Check out the team’s usage numbers below, for the entire season and SEC games only.
Keith Hornsby – 35.5 mpg (36.7 SEC)
Jarell Martin – 35.1 mpg (35.3 SEC)
Jordan Mickey – 34.9 mpg (36.8 SEC)
Tim Quarterman – 33.6 mpg (34.2 SEC)
Josh Gray – 24.8 mpg (21.8 SEC)
Jalyn Patterson – 24.5 mpg (28.6 SEC)
Darcy Malone – 8.6 mpg (11.1 SEC)
John Odo – 7.1 mpg (2.6 SEC)
Brian Bridgewater – 6.6 mpg (5.3 SEC)
Aaron Epps – 6.2 mpg (3.8 SEC)
Elbert Robinson III – 6.2 mpg (3.5 SEC)
There was no depth to speak of after the first six players, and for a chunk of the SEC schedule even Gray, who began the season turnover-plagued, was M.I.A, more or less replaced by Patterson before getting back into good graces down the stretch to extend the rotation to six.
Arguably the most disappointing player in the sense of providing depth, where the Tiger needed it most in the frontcourt, was Robinson, a true freshman. The 7-foot-1 lefty from the Lone Star State started the first four games of the season but only played in parts of seven games thereafter, a CD-DNP for the remaining contests.
On the other end of the spectrum were two players that rose to the occasion, far exceeding preseason expectations, in Patterson and Quarterman.
Quarterman quickly served notice that his freshman campaign was in the rearview, and he turned into LSU’s most versatile weapon in 2014-15. The Savannah native, who during the season notched the program’s first triple-double since Shaq, led the Tigers in assists (4.0/game), steals (1.4/game), was fourth in scoring (11.5), and considering how much he handled the ball as de facto point guard was only fourth in most turnovers a game (2.4).
Patterson, a true freshman, displayed the potential to be a very nice program player over four years for LSU. His poise and even-keel demeanor steadied the ship when Jones moved him into the starting lineup on Feb. 7, 23 games into the season. For the most part he excelled defensively, but Patterson was most valued as a fearless outside shooter.
The addition of Patterson as a perimeter bomber proved useful. The introduction into the lineup of Hornsby, who started every game and played more minutes than any other Tiger, was downright necessary.
Hornsby was the ultimate glue guy – the team’s best outside shooter (team-best 39.3% from three and 28 more made threes than the next highest player), third leading scorer (13.4 points/game) and an underrated defender. He was a rock of consistency, at one point scoring in double figures in 15 straight games.
The big two, as everyone knew coming in, were Martin and Mickey. They weren’t perfect and they each had their lulls, but anyone calling their seasons a letdown is either misguided or a prisoner of the moment.
Martin saved his best for the end of the 33-game slate, putting the team on his back when Mickey was struggling with fatigue and injuries. LSU’s leading scorer, Martin averaged an eye-popping 21.1 points over the team’s final seven games, a run in which he got to the foul line 9.6 times a contest. He averaged north of nine rebounds a game, proof he was engaged more inside this season, and shot 52.2% from the field in SEC play.
Mickey had his issues over the final month, battling shoulder injuries and iron deficiency, but he posted another historic year for the Tigers, mainly as a shot-blocker. He led the nation in rejections (3.6/game) and became the second LSU player since Shaq to author multiple 100-block seasons. He was also a mortal lock for 10 boards a contest before injuries. Mickey’s mid-range jumper improved as well, helping him to average 15.4 points a game and making him more than a put-back player on the offensive end.
Where those two did consistently leave fans scratching their heads was at the free-throw line.
The whole team, outside of Hornsby and Patterson, was inconsistent at the stripe, but the sheer volume of attempts from Martin and Mickey made their numbers so damning. Martin shot the most freebies (203) with Mickey (147) second, clearing the rest of the pack by a decent margin. It did not help LSU’s cause that they ranked fourth (69.0%) and sixth (64.6%), respectively, on the squad in terms of efficiency.
In all LSU wasn’t far from what many thought it would be this season.
The Tigers were a strong offensive team. As of Saturday morning they ranked 12th in the nation in rebounding (39.2/game), 16th in assists (15.7/game despite switching starting point guards midseason) and 41st in scoring (73.7 points/game).
They had their defensive lapses, a victim of far too many runs during the season that submarined close ballgames. Mickey was spectacular as a shot-blocker but not an ideal defensive center, forcing LSU to turn to more zone than usual to combat matchup problems.
Ultimately what kept LSU from becoming a very good team, and one that could’ve challenged Arkansas for second in the SEC, was a combination of poor depth, offensive droughts that led to runs, subpar free-throw shooting and Jones’ reluctance to call timeouts at key junctures (far too many halves and games ended with the Tigers’ pockets stuffed with timeouts).
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