DEVILLE: Surging Tigers storm into February

Have you seen a better half of basketball than LSU's first 20 minutes against Georgia last Wednesday in the Maravich Center?

I haven't.

 

Well, at least I don't think so anyway.

 

Coach John Brady's Tigers outplayed, outmanned and outclassed the visiting Bulldogs from Athens even worse than as Mark Richt's Bulldogs humiliated the LSU Tigers in the SEC Championship Game.

 

If there was ever a game that was over literally as it started it was this game. The Tigers controlled the opening tip and Tyrus Thomas gave LSU a 2-0 lead at the 19:14 mark. Georgia's Channing Toney tied the game at 2-2, but that was it.

 

LSU rattled off 16 straight points and at the 14:42 mark led 18-2. The Bulldogs finally scored again at the 12:38 mark and reached double digits with 9:50 left to play trailing 24-11. The LSU student section let coach Dennis Felton and his team know this by chanting "double digits" over and over again.

 

Georgia may have reached double figures but was anything close to being in the game. The Tigers went on to outscore the Bulldogs 26-8 the rest of the way in the first half. Darrel Mitchell put an exclamation point on the first half gem with a lay-in at the buzzer giving LSU a cool 50-19 lead at the break.

 

In 20 minutes of play, LSU was 20 of 36 from the field, including an impressive 7 of 10 from beyond the three-point line. The Tigers outrebounded Georgia 25-19, turned the ball over six times compared to 15 assists, blocked four shots, had six steals and led their opponent by 31 points.

 

As fans wondered for most of the 2005 football season, how good can this football team when they finally put it all together? When will they play a complete game?

 

Well, the football team waited to the last game of the season to all get on the same page in a game. Les Miles' Tigers routed Miami 40-3. Let's just say, that isn't the case for John Brady's Tigers.

 

LSU is off to a 6-0 start in SEC play, the school's best conference start since 1981. The Tigers played without a doubt their best game of the season last week against Georgia then went on the road and gutted out a backyard brawl with Ole Miss on Saturday.

 

Entering the week, LSU is on top of the SEC standings, a game up on Tennessee (which LSU beat by 14 points at home), and is entering a stretch in which the Tigers can firmly secure a solid NCAA berth and make a run for the program's first SEC title since 2000.

 

Talking with Collis Temple III, former four-year starter for LSU and the older brother current guard Garrett Temple, we reminisced a bit about that 2000 championship team, on which he was a freshman role player. That team featured the likes of SEC Player of the Year Stromile Swift and 6-11 swingman Jabari Smith. That was by far Brady's best team and the athleticism on that squad was sickening.

 

Temple III said this year's team is far and away better than that team, which went 28-6, 12-4 in the SEC and reached the NCAA Sweet 16. He also added Tyrus Thomas, who has burst onto the scene with his eye-popping blocked shots and bone-crushing dunks, is a more aggressive player, with better hops than Swift, who was the NBA Draft's second overall pick that season. (If you can imagine that?)

 

Thomas is quickly becoming the darling of ESPN analyst and NBA scouts and fans (and Brady alike) get nervous every time an article comes out talking about Thomas and a projected draft slot.

 

Thomas has had a great deal to do with LSU's emergence to the tope of the SEC – as had his low-block mate Glen Davis – but is there any question who is this team's most valuable player (and the SEC as well)?

 

Do you think the league could vote a 5-9 guard as the conference's player of the year?

(Yes I say 5-9, not matter what the media guide says.)

 

Darrel Mitchell is the heart and soul of the SEC's best team. You would be hard pressed to find a better "gamer" anywhere than the 5-9 senior from St. Martinville. The fact that Mitchell has hit big shot after big shot, including a game-winning three at West Virginia earlier this season and a series of threes and free throws down the stretch in Oxford on Saturday, the fact he can throw down a two-hand dunk over an defender standing 5-9 is amazing. Don't believe it; check out Mitchell flushing one over Ole Miss' Clarence Sanders on the front page of The Advocate's Sunday sports section.

 

Last week, Mitchell scored 48 points, was a combined 17 of 25 from the floor, 10 of 14 from beyond the arch, 8 of 9 from the free throw line. Simply amazing!

 

Although it is only six games into the SEC season, Mitchell is playing far and away above the rest of his peers in the league.

 

Speaking of it being early, yes, there are still 10 games left on the SEC slate for the Tigers. The next three games come against Auburn, at Alabama and Arkansas before LSU trips to Gainesville for the Florida Gators. There are whispers of the Tigers running the table, but something in the neighborhood of 14-2, 13-3 or even 12-4 would suit Brady just fine.

 

The next four games will tell the tale and give all of us some insight just exactly where this team is going and just how good it truly is. It is shaping up to be a very fun February on the hardwood for Brady and Co.

 

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Matt Deville is the editor of Tiger Rag magazine. Reach him at matt@tigerrag.com.


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