Basketball Scouting Report: LSU
Rod Odom was fantastic. Kyle Fuller was persistent. Dai-Jon Parker was efficient. All seven Vanderbilt players who took the court against Missouri exhibited laudable degrees of determination and focus, but the Odom-Fuller-Parker trio stayed on the floor for every single second of Thursday's tilt. More specifically, those three players held up under the demands of the moment, forging the most satisfying achievement of the season to date. Missouri is not quite the team it was last season, but the ability to win with only seven players – three of them going the full 40 – is a feat to be praised, even celebrated.
Let's immediately clarify something: Vanderbilt should not be lavishly praised in the sense that it is somehow indubitably headed for riches and grand conquests this season… no, that's not the case. The point of taking the time to step back and honor Thursday night's game is that it represented a triumph of the human spirit and the power of the will to achieve greatly in the midst of adversity. That's not overblown, and what's more is that the conscious recognition of Thursday's accomplishment, if absorbed and imbibed by the players on this roster, can plant seeds that will grow in the 2014-2015 season. Special nights in the midst of difficult seasons might not blot out the frustrations of an October-through-March journey that doesn't culminate in an NCAA tournament berth, but those nights can definitely forge the toughness that leads to an NCAA bid a season later. Forget Saturday night's game at LSU for a brief moment. It's worth reflecting on the extent to which the win over Missouri could give rise to a better, stronger program in future seasons.
Johnny Jones, after leading North Texas to the NCAA tournament on two occasions and then losing in the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Tournament final to Western Kentucky, moved up the coaching ladder and landed in Baton Rouge. After a rocky but encouraging get-acquainted season in 2013, Jones appeared to have a veteran group that was ready to take the next step and be an NCAA bubble team at the very least.
It hasn't worked out that way.
LSU is on the NIT bubble at this point, not the NCAA bubble. The Tigers weren't able to win either one of their two marquee non-conference games against Massachusetts and Memphis, and they've regressed over the past two weeks, falling to Rhode Island, Tennessee (by 18 at home), and Ole Miss. Like Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri, LSU is creating a situation in which it will have to beat Kentucky or Florida while coming close to running the table in other SEC games in order to have a realistic chance at the Big Dance. LSU should be desperate in this game, but what should happen is not what has happened for the Bayou Bengals this season.
Forward – Johnny O'Bryant III – Junior, 6-9, 256 2013-14: 13.5 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game
Everyone on this roster deserves a share of the blame for the Tigers' troubles, but if one had to pick a player that was a little bit less responsible for LSU's woes, O'Bryant would be a sound choice. His numbers might not be as good as they should, but 13 and 7 from a 6-9 post player doesn't represent a spectacular failure. More will be said about O'Bryant as this scouting report continues.
Forward – Jordan Mickey – Freshman, 6-8, 220; 2013-14: 13.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 3.7 blocks per game
O'Bryant's production looks even better when one considers the fact that his main sidekick in the LSU frontcourt is doing an even better job. O'Bryant's ability to rack up numbers is obviously limited, since there's another player who not only can, but should, be getting a fair amount of post touches in his own right. The best player on this team, Mickey is a budding star. His shot-blocking ability as a first-year player is eye-popping. Players who stand at 6-8 don't average almost four blocks per game in a freshman season without possessing extremely good instincts. Vanderbilt will face a stiff challenge when trying to maneuver around Mickey near the rim.
Forward/Guard – Shavon Coleman – Senior, 6-5, 195; 2013-14: 8.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg
Coleman is a tweener forward, and it is true that "tweeners" can be uncomfortable on the floor. That's been the case for a senior who has not given Jones and the rest of the LSU coaching staff the production it has been looking for. As you go up and down this roster, you'll notice that LSU players simply don't leave substantial statistical footprints in any single category, with few exceptions. Mickey's 3.7 blocks per game is one, and guard Anthony Hickey's 2.5 steals per game is another. Coleman is one of many LSU players who simply doesn't make as much of an impact as he needs to.
Guard – Malik Morgan – Sophomore, 6-4, 199; 2013-14: 4.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg
Morgan is another "placeholder starter" who averages far fewer minutes (16.9 per game) than a reserve on the roster. Senior guard Andre Stringer averages 27.7 minutes per game, almost 11 more than Morgan. He averages 12.1 points and 3.1 assists per game while hitting 39.2 percent of his threes. Stringer is LSU's only strong three-point shooter, something the Commodores will be sure to take note of on Saturday night.
Guard – Anthony Hickey – Junior, 5-11, 182; 2013-14: 8.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.5 steals per game
Hickey is a strong defender on an LSU team that gives up an average of just 0.92 points per possession, which places the Tigers in the top 32 of Division I. However, he – like most of the perimeter or wing players on this roster – doesn't shoot the three very well. Hickey hits just 33.3 percent of his triples on a team whose three-point shooting percentage is 30.8. That figure puts LSU in the bottom fourth of the country (268th out of 351 teams), and it's a huge reason why LSU rates 207th in the country in points scored per possession (1.003).
Jones uses a nine-man rotation including the use of Stringer off the pine. The other three primary reserves are forwards Jarell Martin and Shane Hammink plus guard Tim Quarterman. Martin averages 9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. Hammink and Quarterman haven't left any kind of a mark on this team, which is a main source of LSU's problems. The leading scorer is at 13.5, and only three players average more than 9 points. Only two players average more than 3.9 rebounds per game, and neither one of them averages more than 7.3. No player averages more than 3.5 assists, a function of this team's inability to hit perimeter shots. Moreover, LSU averages 17.5 turnovers a game, next to last out of 351 D-I teams whose stats are tracked. The backcourt starters and most reserves simply don't bring enough to the table.
Keys to the Game
1) Earn and make foul shots. Given that Vanderbilt is playing the back end of a Thursday-Saturday set while traveling out of state, the Dores figure to run out of steam in the second half, as was the case against Ole Miss in the 2013 SEC Tournament semifinals. Perimeter shots are not likely to fall because of tired legs. This means Vanderbilt will need to make a parade to the foul line and convert with great frequency.
2) Don't give away free points. LSU has a tough time generating its own offense, so as long as Vanderbilt doesn't give the Tigers easy baskets or a lot of free throws, whether due to open-court (live-ball) turnovers or silly fouls in shooting situations, it can limit the Bayou Bengals on offense and win a low-scoring game in the high 50s or low 60s.
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