The fact that LSU is off to a 3-0 start doesn’t come as a shock to most observers taking the competition into consideration.
The Tigers opened the campaign with an 82-62 win over ULM and went 2-0 in the South Region of the NIT Season Tip-Off – defeating Indiana State, 56-45, followed by a 71-60 victory against Western Kentucky.
The first two victories may have been expected but the win over Western Kentucky is impressive for an LSU club that returned just two starters from a year ago.
The Hilltoppers, on the other hand, returned four starters from last year’s squad that won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and had a chance to take Gonzaga into overtime but a runner with 0.9 second left ended their season putting WKU one game short of a trip to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Next up for LSU is a trip to the Big Apple where the Tigers will face 13th-ranked U-Conn in Madison Square Garden for the right to play either No. 8-ranked Duke or Arizona State in the NIT finals.
U-Conn (3-0) advanced to the NIT semis with wins over Colgate (77-63) and Hofstra (76-67), and the Huskies defeated William & Mary 75-66 to open the season.
The Huskies were picked to finish third in the Big East Conference – behind Villanova and West Virginia – in the Big East Pre-Season Coaches’ Poll so this will be a big test for the young Tigers.
“They are athletic, and probably as quick a team as we’ll face this year in terms of their ability at all five positions to get up and down the floor,” LSU head coach Trent Johnson said of U-Conn. “They’re a good challenge for us, and I think the guys are looking forward to it.”
Leading LSU’s charge in the early going has been combo guard Bo Spencer who leads the Tigers in scoring at 20.3 points a game. Spencer went for 23 in the opener but was held in check with only 10 points against Indiana State. He came up big against WKU, though, with a career-high 28 points and LSU will need that type of performance from Spencer when they meet U-Conn next Wednesday in the Garden.
Strom Warren has been a pleasant surprise for LSU as the sophomore forward registered a double-double (scoring and rebounding) in all three contests thus far and is leading the team with 11.7 rebounds and is second with 16.3 points a game.
Warren credits fifth-year senior Tasmin Mitchell for helping him become the player that he’s been in the 2009-10 season.
“I have to tip my hat to the upperclassmen because I just took everything from them. I took a lot from Tasmin Mitchell,” Warren said. “He always tells me to take my time and let the game come to me. That’s what all my coaches and the rest of my teammates have been telling me so that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
One area that could be of concern to Johnson after three games is LSU’s three-point shooting as the Tigers have gone 10-of-51 from behind the arc for 19.6 percent. However, the headman isn’t as worried as one may think.
“I don’t spend a lot of time really worrying about that,” he said. “Going into this year, we knew that shooting the three (point shot) wasn’t going to be a strength for our team.”
While that does not sit well with the headman there are some areas that has to please him namely on the boards and on the defensive end.
LSU is holding opponents to 35.5 percent shooting from the floor. On the glass, the Tigers average 13 rebounds a game more than the competition and hold a 51-30 advantage on the offensive end.
Johnson hopes the Tigers can continue their stellar play in those areas because he expects to get U-Conn’s best effort of the season when the two teams square off.
“When you start talking about playing the University of Connecticut, you’re talking about having your mental and physical toughness tested every possession,” he said. “There won’t be any possessions off. Obviously, they’re 3-0. I’ve watched all three game tapes and knowing Coach Calhoun like I know him, I don’t think he’s very pleased with the way they’ve been playing, so we’ll get a maximum effort come next week.”
This early matchup will draw national attention for the Tigers and it will be a good measuring stick out of the gates. But Johnson and the Tigers know that there is a lot of basketball to be played regardless of what happens in New York.
“Every game we play is a measuring stick,” said Johnson. “You’re going to take steps forward and you’re going to take steps backwards. For us, every game we’re trying to get better. It’s not going to make our season if it goes badly and it’s not going to make our season if it goes well.”
The prognosis for Alex Farrer appears to be a little worse than initially expected. Farrer injured his kneecap in a scrimmage and the best case scenario was that the senior guard would miss around six weeks.
However, surgery that was done ten days ago revealed bone and fragment under the kneecap and he is likely out for the season.
2010 Recruiting Notes
When Trent Johnson met with the media on Thursday he spoke about a variety of topics and one that he touched on was the 2010 recruiting class.
LSU signed four players in the early signing period in Matt Derenbecker, Ralston Turner, Jalen Courtney and Andre Stringer. Johnson feels that he’s addressed one area that may be a shortcoming for his current squad.
“We’re going to shoot the ball (next season), I can tell you that,” he said. “Perimeter-wise, I think we have a chance to be pretty good. The thing I like about all four guys is that they’re really quality kids and they’ve got a chance to be really, really good players.”
LSU has room to sign one more in this class the way the present roster numbers break down and Johnson and his staff are still on the prowl.
“We’re never done, but I’d like to be able to get somebody like Shaq in there,” Johnson quipped. “I think you guys would like that too. No, we’re not done. If there’s a player that’s capable of coming here and helping us, obviously, we’d take him.
“Recruiting, to me, is year-round. Contrary to what’s on the Internet and what may be said about who we’re recruiting, we’re looking for better players who are quality people and want to get a good education. That’s always going to be every day of the week.”