Scouting Report: LSU
It's not a fun task, but one must briefly recap those grisly five minutes and 35 seconds which concluded Saturday's game against Alabama. From the 5:15 mark to the 1:14 mark of regulation, Vanderbilt attempted a total of four field goals. The Commodores allowed Alabama to accumulate four steals in the final 5:35. Vandy allowed Alabama – a team that hit only 38 percent of its field goals on Saturday – to make up a 53-46 deficit exclusively at the foul line. The Commodores missed all seven field goal attempts in that fateful stretch of just over five and a half minutes after hitting 19 of their first 32 tries. They failed to finish two layups in the final 90 seconds, calling to mind the Tennessee loss. They missed a front end of a one-and-one in the final 5:35 against Alabama and missed another foul shot as well.
This wasn't merely a collapse – that one word doesn't tell the full story. The truly frustrating aspect of Saturday's loss is not that VU squandered the lead in itself; it was the way in which Vanderbilt cracked.
Indeed, the reality that has hounded head coach Kevin Stallings over the past few days is that Vanderbilt was not winning by seven points in a fast-paced game; it was winning by seven (53-46 at the 5:35 mark) in a slow-paced contest. Leading by seven in a defense-first game against a poor-shooting opponent feels like a 15-point lead against a foe with top-notch three-point marksmen. Alabama, in the course of overcoming that seven-point deficit, hit only one (!) field goal attempt. Vanderbilt's lack of focus at the defensive end of the floor, handing out free throws like Halloween candy, gave the Crimson Tide a lifeline. Meanwhile, VU – in the midst of a shooting slump – was unable to make its own procession to the foul line and thereby create points in a time of crisis as Bama was able to do.
Everyone in and around the program knows that these losses are quite preventable. Making a few simple plays – two or three in meaningful moments, nothing more – is all Vanderbilt needs in order to turn frowns upside down. Until the Commodores can make those plays, however, they're going to continue to be what they are: a thoroughly exasperated bunch, the Sisyphus of the Southeastern Conference who rolls the boulder up the hill only to see it slide back down the slope.
LSU, under first-year coach Johnny Jones (who came over from North Texas, where he led the Mean Green to the NCAA tournament), is part of the vast and mediocre middle of the SEC. Yet, if you look closely at the Bayou Bengals' resume, they're not all that far from being a bubble team. LSU lost by only four points at Marquette earlier in the season. Had the Tigers been able to snag that game and defeat South Carolina at home in overtime, they'd have the fifth-best resume in the conference behind Florida, Ole Miss, Missouri, and Kentucky. As it is, though, the Tigers couldn't dig out those two victories, so they're playing for an NIT bid. Nevertheless, they are playing well at the moment, having upset Missouri en route to three wins in four SEC contests. It certainly won't be easy for Vanderbilt to go into Baton Rouge and win. LSU rightfully feels quite confident at this point in time.
The one characteristic that immediately jumps off the page with respect to LSU is that the Tigers don't play at the same slow pace of Tennessee and Alabama, Vanderbilt's last two opponents. The Tigers can actually play – get this! – in the 70s and don't even mind doing so. (Pretty wild, right?) What makes LSU's season more impressive when graded on a curve is that this team has been ravaged by injuries, some long-term and others more recent. Forward Eddie Ludwig has been on the shelf for weeks. Charles Carmouche has missed action in January as well, and Corban Collins suffered a concussion on Jan. 19 against Georgia. Big man Johnny O' Bryant has been playing this SEC season with a high ankle sprain. It's a wonder that this team is finding a way to stay afloat in the SEC and nab a quality win over a team with Missouri's credentials.
LSU STAT PACK – STATISTICAL HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS
Field goal shooting percentage: 42.7. National rank: 199 (out of 345).
Three-point field goal shooting percentage: 33.2. National rank: 195.
Possessions per 40 minutes: 72.7. National rank: 19.
Turnovers per game: 15.3. National rank: 296.
Points allowed per possession: 0.935. National rank: 85.
Three-point field goal percentage defense: 31.1. National rank: 63.
Forward – Johnny O'Bryant III – Sophomore, 6-9, 262 2012-13: 11.9 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game
O'Bryant is a true widebody in the middle. He's only in his second year, which makes you realize that his body is going to grow in the coming years. He hits only 46.9 percent of his field goal attempts, but with continued development as a low-post player, especially footwork and agility, O'Bryant can become an even more devastating force. Keep in mind his high ankle sprain, which is surely limiting his numbers. O'Bryant gives LSU a promising future, but on this night, Vanderbilt needs to make sure that O'Bryant's current lack of maximum mobility becomes a factor on the boards.
Forward – Shavon Coleman – Junior, 6-5, 195; 2012-13: 11.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 1.5 steals per game
Notice that LSU's only other forward is under 200 pounds. This helps explain why LSU likes to play at a faster pace (though not telling the full story, of course; Alabama is guard-dominated as well but prefers a slower tempo; the key differentiation is that Alabama's guards are longer and more powerful – they can withstand a more rugged style of play over the course of 40 minutes). Coleman, though, despite his lack of height and width, rebounds extremely well for his position. O'Bryant isn't the only formidable rebounder on this team, despite the lack of heft in LSU's starting five.
Guard – Andre Stringer – Junior, 5-9, 178; 2012-13: 11.1 ppg, 1.9 assists per game
Stringer is the player who, more than anyone else on the LSU roster, can stretch a defense. On a team of very poor three-point shooters – no one else who plays at least 19 minutes per game averages anything better than 31.6 percent – Stringer is the exception. The junior hits 41.4 percent of his long-distance tries and averages at least five attempts per game. Vanderbilt can play off LSU's other guards, daring them to shoot, but the Dores must make Stringer put the ball on the deck.
Guard – Malik Morgan – Freshman, 6-4, 188; 2012-13: 5.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.6 steals per game
Morgan is the LSU starter who gets bench-level (sixth-man) minutes at 19.5 per game, while reserve Charles Carmouche comes off the bench and gets starter-level minutes at 24.3 per contest. Both Morgan and Carmouche are 6-4, giving LSU some length and size in the backcourt, whereas Stringer and teammate Anthony Hickey must rely on quickness and guile to make the Tigers function at both ends of the court. Morgan is a formidable pickpocket, but Carmouche is even better, averaging 2.3 steals per game. Carmouche averages 9.3 points per game to give LSU a bit of ballast at the offensive end as well. One is struck by the fact that Vanderbilt, four days after allowing 12 steals to Alabama, must contend with another opponent that is highly skilled in the art of thievery.
Guard – Anthony Hickey – Sophomore, 5-11, 182; 2012-13: 12.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.6 apg, 3.5 steals per game
If you're able to collect even one steal per game, you're doing well. Hickey, only a sophomore, is averaging close to four per night. That's insane. Nearing four rebounds per contest at his (lack of) height is almost as impressive… only because 3.5 steals per game is nuts. It's rare when a team's leading scorer is best known for anything and everything other than his scoring ability, but Hickey is such an example. What's also crazy about Hickey's profile is that he's an absolutely awful foul shooter, at 51.7 percent. It makes sense that O'Bryant, with large hands and a brawny body, hits only 58.3 percent of his free throws, but Hickey and Morgan (57.1 percent) should be embarrassed by their performances at the charity stripe. No guards should ever shoot below 65 percent from the foul line. (Stringer is LSU's best foul shooter, at 81.1 percent. Carmouche hits a respectable 71 percent of his tries.)
The six players that have been talked about above (including Carmouche off the pine) receive at least 19.5 minutes per game. Four other active players receive at least nine minutes per game for LSU: guards Corban Collins center Andrew Del Piero, and the forward tandem of Shane Hammink and Jalen Courtney. Del Piero averages 1.2 blocked shots per game, and that's the only particularly notable statistic to emerge from these four bench players. It's little wonder that there's a wide gap in minutes between LSU's top six players and its four-member bench.
Keys to the Game
1) Get to the foul line. Vanderbilt, given its struggles on offense, has to be able to get to the free throw line – when the offense is struggling, yes, but also late in games, in order to sustain momentum and get the opposing team's defense in just enough foul trouble to change the way in which a game is played. If opposing defenses have players who are saddled with foul trouble, that can provide just enough leverage and operating space for VU's offense at crunch time. Earning more foul shots has to be seen as a priority in this game and for the rest of the season as well.
2) Know your roles so that LSU doesn't get on a roll. Notice how LSU's top six players, the ones who receive the vast majority of minutes, are segmented into three neat categories and corresponding roles. O'Bryant and Coleman are the rebounders. Hickey, Carmouche and Morgan are the pickpockets who give LSU some teeth and tenacity on defense. Stringer is the shooter who hits threes and foul shots. Vanderbilt is playing three "games within the game" against LSU – one against the rebounders, one against the pickpockets, and one against Stringer, the sniper. If VU can win two of these battles – you'll know it if you see it – the visitors will probably claim the game in Baton Rouge. If the Dores lose two of these three mini-contests, they'll lose the larger competition as well.
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