Aloha! OSU, LSU Face Off Monday In Maui

MAUI, Hawaii - Oklahoma State and LSU have more in common that Les Miles. The Cowboys and Tigers both had national powerhouse basketball teams just a few years ago but enter Monday's first-round game of the EA Sports Maui Invitational trying to get back on track after struggling a year ago. Tip-off for Monday's nationally televised game (ESPN2) is scheduled for 4 p.m. (Central time).

The Cowboys, 1-1 after Wednesday night's 82-73 loss at North Texas, have missed making the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons after back-to-back Sweet 16 and Final Four appearances with standouts like Joey Graham, Tony Allen, John Lucas, Ivan McFarlin and Stevie Graham.

LSU, 2-0 this season after defeating McNeese State 78-74 on its homecourt Wednesday, was just 17-15 a year ago and missed the postseason just a year after making a Final Four run. The Tigers also have had some big-time talent in recent seasons – Brandon Bass (2005 SEC Player of the Year), Tyrus Thomas (2006 SEC Freshman of the Year), and Glen Davis (2006 SEC Player of the Year). But none of those still wear the yellow and purple uniform.

How closely do the two programs resemble each other? One preseason magazine wrote, "LSU arrives at a crossroads this season, and unlike the recent past the Tigers won't have an NBA-bound big man to serve as navigator. The Tigers come off a head-scratching two-year stretch when they unexpectedly stormed to the Final Four (2006) and then plunged to 17-15 last year and missed the postseason altogether. With a roster filled with six veterans and five newcomers, LSU enters the season as a difficult team to read."

Except for the part about an NBA-bound big man (although you could substitute former Cowboy guard JamesOn Curry for the NBA-bound big man), that same analysis could have been written for Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys, despite the return of Marcus Dove, Byron Eaton, Terrel Harris and Obi Muonelo, are going to rely on seven newcomers this season. The most highly acclaimed of those seven is James Anderson, who didn't disappoint in tying a school single-game freshman scoring record with 29 points in his Cowboy debut. But the 6-6 freshman from Junction City, Ark., struggled in his first collegiate game on the road, making just 5-of-15 field goals (including 1-of-7 shooting from three-point range) in the loss at North Texas.

He wasn't the only Cowboy to struggle. The other three guards – Eaton, Harris and Muonelo – were a combined 7-of-26 shooting with seven turnovers and just six assists.

"We need to get better guard play to win at the level that we want to win at, and to win on the road," OSU head coach Sean Sutton said. "We can't have Obi (Muonelo), Terrel (Harris) and Byron (Eaton) go 7-for-26 from the field, 6-of-18 from the three-point line, and then we get two free throws total, six assists and seven turnovers.

"Those guys are better players than that, and they'll play better. But they didn't have a good night tonight, and with a young team for the first time on the road you need your veteran guards to play like they're capable of," Sutton continued.

LSU was not much more impressive against McNeese State, a team which was 15-17 a year ago, but at least the Tigers got the win. Head coach John Brady's squad is led by two of those newcomers.

Guard Marcus Thornton, a junior college transfer from Kilgore (Texas) Junior College, is averaging 25.5 points for the Tigers, while 6-10, 205-pound freshman forward Anthony Randolph, of Dallas, is averaging a double-double (15.5 points and 10 rebounds) early in his career. Thorton scored 24 against McNeese State, while Tasmin Mitchell, a 6-7 wing player, finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds.

"The thing that is really intriguing about our team is that they don't show me in the game what they do at practice," Brady said after victory. "I am convinced, and I may be wrong, that this is a good shooting team. We haven't really shot the ball at all. We gear ourselves to be a team that can make a few open shots but we haven't made them. We had to rely on getting the ball to the rim and getting by.

"I told my team in the locker room that ‘You guys are going to have to understand the level of execution it takes to win against the teams that we have to play.' You have to execute, you can't be a step late, or say ‘Oh I should go here,' it will be too late. It's not going to happen." Brady continued. "You can get by with it in these early games but you can't get by with it next week on that island (Maui Invitational.)"

That's the same message that Sean Sutton has delivered to his team in recent days.

"LSU is talented, and has a great tradition in college basketball," the Cowboy head coach said. "The great thing about college basketball is that there are a lot of games and it's a long season. It's still very early."

Dove, one of only two OSU seniors, said, "We have to work on our defense. We have a lot to work on. We're not going to be home at Maui, and all the teams will have their share of fans, including us. We've just got to get prepared and go in there with the mindset that we're going to win the whole tournament."

GoPokes Top Stories