FEINSWOG: Calling Zonebusters

As we go through this college basketball season, you hear more and more coaches talk about how they embraced a zone defense, something they don't normally do.

Forget that Jim Boeheim at Syracuse has made a Hall of Fame career by playing almost exclusively zone.

This year, more and more guys are zoning up and it's paying off. Such was the case Saturday at Alabama, when Mark Gottfried relied on a zone to stop LSU.

LSU obliged by scoring just 11 points in the final 8:14. Its only basket from outside in the final 4:24 was on a 3-pointer by Tasmin Mitchell with 48 seconds left that pulled the Tigers to 64-61.

On paper, LSU's outside shooting looked good: 7 of 18 from 3-point range, 38.7 percent, which is better than its average. But the Tigers couldn't deliver in the halfcourt late while Alabama was doing an effective job of shutting down LSU's best weapon, guard Darrel Mitchell.

Such is the plight of a team that relies on a 5-9 speedster for much of its outside game.

Garrett Temple was 2 of 4 from beyond the arc, which is way better than his season average. Tasmin Mitchell hit 2 of 3 and Darrel Mitchell 3 of 10, none in the final 13:58. For LSU, that's simply not good enough, especially when the other team goes into a zone.

But that's the burden these Tigers carry.

They are tremendous on defense.

They can score in transition as good as anyone.

They are super athletic and disciplined.

But they don't have an abundance of spot-up dead-on shooters and there will be times when that simply bites them in the butt.

On the other hand, consider that had LSU beaten Alabama instead of falling 67-62 for its most lopsided defeat of the season – remember that LSU's previous five losses were by a total of 11 points – the Tigers would have been four games ahead in the SEC Western Division after eight games with eight to play.

Such a feat would have been unprecedented since the league split to two divisions in 1992-93.

Instead, LSU is 7-1 with a two-game lead over Alabama, the next closest team. And the Tigers are finished with the Tide, having beaten them in Baton Rouge earlier in the season.

Now Arkansas comes to town with visions of making this a race, like Bama hoping to cut its deficit behind LSU to two games.

The schedule favors LSU at this point, considering LSU won at Arkansas to open SEC play and then is home for the hottest team in the league, Florida.

Alabama's victory may have tightened things up, but if the Tigers beat Arkansas to go to 8-1, Alabama will have to get some help to catch LSU. Arkansas will be out of it and Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State already are.

All of which should be irrelevant to LSU, which must continue to play the aforementioned smothering defense, capitalize on its athleticism, and take advantage of playing at home.

But somewhere along the way, the Tigers are going to have come up big in close games in the halfcourt against top-level teams. It could be Saturday against Florida; more likely it will be in the NCAA Tournament where the competition will mimic those five early losses to Houston, Northern Iowa, Ohio State, Cincinnati and UConn.

Call Zonebusters.


Lee Feinswog is the author of "Tales From The LSU Sidelines," a Baton Rouge sportswriter and host of the television show Sports Monday. Reach him at (225) 926-3256 or lee@sportsbatonrouge.com.

His newest book, "HoopDaddy" is available at www.HoopDaddy.net.

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