Tiger Rag's midseason hoops report card

Just a little more than halfway into the 2002-03 basketball season, we at Tiger felt like we would sit back and evaluate the performance of coach John Brady's LSU Tigers as the month of February nears.

If you would have asked anyone just two weeks ago, most would have said these Tigers were headed nowhere but up. Riding high after an upset of the No. 1-ranked team in the land with a 66-65 win over Arizona, LSU rolled into the New Year ranked in the top 25. A win over No. 7 Mississippi State a little over two weeks ago and Brady's bunch looked to have finally arrived on the national stage.

 

What a difference a few weeks makes.

 

Since a blow out win over Centenary at home, LSU has lost three in a row in SEC play and the thought of this team making a run to the NCAA Tournament seems like a distant memory. We are not saying Brady and the Tigers can't get things turned around, but at the present time it does not look good. The hot-hand LSU possessed a few weeks ago has since turned ice cold and a dominating defense that Brady has made famous in Baton Rouge has since disappeared.

 

While times are tough at the present time, the first half of the season has not been all-bad. LSU has had their moments and shown flashes of brilliance from time to time proving they do have what it takes to be an NCAA caliber team.

 

However, at the present time, the Tigers have lost their focus.

 

Over the next few paragraphs we will evaluate the performance of Brady and his ball club through the first 17 games. We will focus on offense, defense and coaching as well as position break downs in terms of personnel and assign grades to each that we feel is appropriate.

 

The Offense

Up until a few weeks ago, LSU's offense was among the best in the league.

The Tigers were scorching hot from the field, as well as three-point territory. Free throw shooting was so-so at best, but LSU possessed two players ranked among the league's best in field goal percentage.

 

At one time, junior forward Jaime Lloreda was shooting almost 60-percent from the floor while Ronald Dupree led an LSU offense shooting around the half-century mark through the non-conference schedule. Freshman Darrel Mitchell has been one Tiger who has not failed to impress.

 

Even in the current offensive funk LSU has found itself in, Mitchell has remained consistent shooting the ball from the perimeter. On the season, he has converted nearly 50-percent of three-point attempts.

 

As for the team's offensive effort, things could not have been better than a few weeks ago. The Tigers shot the lights out against Arizona, Mississippi State and nearly shot a school record nailing 70-percent of their shots against Centenary. However, the last three games have seen LSU in the neighborhood of 30-percent.

 

Brady has always complimented his team for taking quality shots, even when they are not falling. In these last three games, LSU has failed to take advantage of open looks opting for off-balance shots resulting in either a clanging brick off the rim or an air ball. Torris Bright and Dupree each lofted their fair share of air balls in Saturday's 67-64 loss in Starkville.

 

The disappointing thing is when LSU isn't missing from the perimeter, they are failing to convert easy shots in the paint. Dupree opened the game Saturday missing a wide-open, two-handed dunk. Lloreda missed a couple of easy layups and Brad Bridgewater, a 6-8, 260-pound man-child, continues to want to short-arm the ball or shoot a hook shot when he should be ripping down the goal.

 

The upsetting thing is the Tigers have shown what they can do offensively. Brady's team possesses enough offensive weapons and adequate enough firepower to score plenty. Lately, though, the points haven't been there.

The theme ‘what have you done for me lately' comes to mind when grading the offense, but you do have to take into consideration a number of outstanding offensive performances of the first half of the season.

 

Tiger Rag calls it: C-

 

The Defense

This has to be the most disappointing part of LSU's game.

 

Brady said after his team's 67-57 loss to Ole Miss, "You cannot win on a consistent basis in this league if you do not base your team on defending and rebounding."

 

If that is the case, LSU has no chance of winning on a consistent basis in the SEC due to the fact the Tigers have lacked a killer instinct on defense and have failed to effectively crash the boards since the start of league play.

 

Lloreda was among the league's top rebounders. Dupree ranks second in the SEC in boards with almost nine per game. But, as a team, rebounding has been a killer as shown in the loss at Arkansas where LSU was out-rebounded 44-22 by a bad Razorback ball club.

 

It seems whenever a shot goes in the air on the offensive end of the floor there is a host of the wrong colored jerseys waiting to pull down the loose ball. On defense, the Tigers are getting manhandled in the paint as Mississippi State dominated the offensive boards getting second and third chances for points in the paint.

 

Brady has criticized his defense constantly and has harped on the fact his club has not held a league team to under 50-percent shooting from the floor. Although that is not entirely accurate, the Bulldogs did shot 48-percent in an 85-72 loss in Baton Rouge, every other team has been in the neighborhood or above the 50-percent mark.

 

Granted, as Dupree said after the Arkansas loss, teams that had been in offensive slumps have had break out games against the Tigers. Georgia, Arkansas and Ole Miss all scorched the nets in their respective matchups with LSU. Defended or not, the Hawgs, Dawgs and Rebs all knocked down shot after shot.

 

At any rate, this team does not reflect the kind of team Brady is known for. With this much talent on the floor, it is amazing the Tigers cannot stop anybody. Brady made a good point after the Ole Miss loss saying you do not have to be talented to defend. He said he has bad players that could play defense.

 

Good or bad players mean nothing at this time; LSU defense has been disappointing at best through the first half of the season. If things don't chance soon, they could get worse.

 

Tiger Rag calls it: D-

 

Coaching

We would find it unfair to criticize any coach while in the midst of a three-game losing streak, so we won't.

 

Actually, there is very little you could say about Brady right now that would be negative. The man has put together a pair of outstanding game plans in beating two top 10 teams this season and has had his team in position to work their way up the ranks of the top 25.

 

The only remarks we can make about Brady is, doesn't it seem strange that when riddled with scholarship limitations over the past five years Brady has always had a team that grossly overachieved and managed to play spoiler late in the season. His prior teams played inspired basketball when their backs were against the wall, usually from the opening tip every time they stepped on the floor.

 

Now, with a bench full of players and loads of depth, LSU has been horribly inconsistent and is slowly being tagged with the title of underachiever.

 

Brady has already had to deal with attrition this season with the departure of three players. Shawnson Johnson left the team out of sheer stupidity while Courtney Trask quit probably due to a lack of playing time thanks to the emergence of Mitchell. Tony Gipson is the latest casualty being forced to miss the remainder of the season due to academic ineligibility.

 

Whether or not the recent poor play of the Tigers can be attributed to the players or their coach or both, Brady has to be feeling some pressure as with each loss the NCAA Tournament is slipping farther and farther out of reach.

 

Tiger Rag calls it: B

 

The Backcourt

Guard play is supposed to be one of LSU's strengths this season. At times it has been, other times it has been the opposite.

 

Torris Bright has looked like an all-SEC performer in several games this season burying three-point buckets, dishing out assists and running the Tiger offense with precision. However, when Bright is not on his game, neither is LSU. Brady has said for LSU to be effective, Bright has to be clicking.

 

Bright had back-to-back 10-assist performances in wins over Mississippi State and Centenary. He notched a perfect game in LSU's first meeting with Bulldogs, not missing a shot from the floor. But when he failed to record a single assist in the 10-point loss to Ole Miss, the results were evident.

 

Bright's backup, Charlie Thompson, is one of LSU's best defenders as well as the top free throw shooter on the team. But his tendency to pass up open looks from three-point territory makes him virtually useless on the offensive end.

 

Antonio Hudson, who enjoyed one of the best freshman seasons in LSU history a year ago, has had his moments as well. Hudson led all LSU scorers in the win over Arizona. However, Hudson's long-range bombs have found the hoop less and less this season, as he sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

 

Mitchell is probably the lone bright spot on the LSU team at this time. The true freshman out of St. Martinville continues to improve and his quick release on three-point baskets have provided the Tigers with a shot in the arm during their recent offensive slump.

 

Mitchell is responsible for the play of the year so far this season when he crossed up Arizona senior guard Jason Gardner converting a dazzling reverse layup in LSU's upset of the top-ranked Wildcats.

 

On the flip side, Mitchell, who was not known for his defensive prowess as a prepster, has developed into one of Brady's best defenders.

 

Collis Temple III's role has shrunk substantially from a season ago. A year ago, Temple was relied heavily upon to score for the Tigers. Now, he is forced to pick his spots to shine, usually from the outside.

 

Tiger Rag calls it: B-


The Frontcourt

Regarded as one of the top newcomers in the league, Lloreda stepped into limelight with a dominating performance in the win over Arizona. The Colon, Panama, native's ability to handle the ball down low as well as post up opposing big men has made him a valuable asset to the Tiger offense. Defensive, he guards the paint well and has shown he can block a shot or two.

 

Free throw shooting has been Lloreda's Achilles' heel, as the big man has had more than a few bricks when stepping to charity stripe.

 

Bridgewater was supposed to have improved his inside game during the off-season, but his maturation into a dominant big man has remained absent so far this season. The senior forward saw his role decrease significantly with the arrival of Lloreda, but even when he is on the floor he has not provided LSU with the necessary stopper they need in the paint.

 

As stated earlier, the brawny Bridgewater continues to want to shoot touch shots and hook shots when a guy his size needs to go strong to the hole dunking the basketball while picking up fouls.

 

The loss of Johnson has hurt the Tigers on size, however Brady's team is much better off without the negative attitude of the junior college transfer from Shreveport.

 

Beyond Bridgewater and Lloreda, there is very little depth at the post coming off the bench. Brady has turned to senior Thomas Davis on a few occasions but playing time is so scarce for the Pineville native that he has failed to really gain an everyday player's mentality.

 

Tiger Rag calls it: C+

 

Overall

The LSU Tigers are in no way out of the hunt for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. However, they are definitely going to have to change their ways if they hops to be dancing come March.

 

The Tigers have shown they can play with and beat the big boys on a national stage; the key is competing at that high of a level every time they step onto the hardwood.

 

LSU showed a season ago they could manufacture a late season run, which resulted in an NIT bid a year ago. The difference this season is if Brady can somehow pull another run out of his hat, coupled with the pair of big wins early this season, the Tigers could be fitted with a pair of dancing shoes.

Tiger Rag calls it: C


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