Skip to content

Can LSU play up to its talent level this season after disappointing ’13-’14?

Aug 13, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT

source:

AP Photo

LONG BEACH, California — With a front court headlined by Johnny O’Bryant III and bolstered by the addition of a talented recruiting class led by forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, LSU entered the 2013-14 season with the expectation of competing for an NCAA tournament bid. In total, LSU returned five of its top seven players, which is why the SEC coaches picked the Tigers to finish fourth in the preseason poll.

Things didn’t work out that way.

LSU won 20 games but finished just 9-9 in conference play. Instead of spending Selection Sunday wondering where their NCAA tournament would begin, LSU found itself awaiting the NIT selection show. The Tigers lost in the second round to SMU, and while they did lose contributors such as O’Bryant, leading assist man Anthony Hickey and third-leading scorer Shavon Coleman, there is once again optimism in Baton Rouge.

Mickey and Martin lead the returnees, and LSU also adds a solid group of newcomers led by juco point guard Josh Gray and UNC Asheville transfer Keith Hornsby. From a talent standpoint, the belief is that the pieces are there to earn the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009. In order to make good on that potential, however, LSU is going to be the team that beat Kentucky without reverting to the team that went 2-7 on the road in SEC play this season.

RELATED: Rating the performance of every college player at adidas Nations

“We have to be more consistent,” Mickey told NBCSports.com at the adidas Nations camp. “We beat some big-name teams but we weren’t able to string together wins like we needed to. We definitely need to work on being more consistent, and on our team defense.”

To Mickey’s point, there were multiple occasions in which LSU found a way to generate positive momentum, only to allow it to slip away with a lackluster performance. After losing two of their first three games to start SEC play the Tigers won back-to-back games, only to drop a two-point decision at Alabama on January 25. LSU managed to pick up wins over Kentucky and Arkansas in the games that followed, only to be soundly defeated at Georgia on February 6. And the Tigers struggled on the road, with their only wins coming against South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

Obviously, that has to change if the Tigers are to take a step forward in 2014-15, and the hope is that their new point guard can help lead the charge.

Given his ability to score from the point guard position, Gray gives LSU an added dimension at the position. While Hickey did dish out 3.7 assists per game and did a good job of taking care of the basketball — his assist-to-turnover ratio ranked second in the SEC — he shot just 36.9 percent from the field and 34.6 percent from beyond the arc.

Last season at Odessa, Gray accounted for 33.8 points and 5.9 assists per contest and, given the front court talent this group boasts, could potentially give LSU a boost it lacked a season ago. But he arrives on campus thinking not of how his ability to score can help the Tigers, but of the importance of establishing himself as a capable leader of the team. One of LSU’s biggest issues was that it had too many shot-happy guards on a team that should have been pounding the ball inside.

MORE: Superlatives for the best college players at adidas Nations

In order to best position himself, Gray’s worked hard not only on his individual game but also on establishing a rapport with his teammates and coaches during summer workouts.

“I’ve worked hard to make sure I’m ready to contribute and have an impact,” Gray told NBCSports.com. “I’m just going to be very coachable, do what my coach asks of me and we’ll go from there.”

From an efficiency standpoint, LSU finished in the middle of the SEC, ranking eighth in the conference in offensive efficiency, and the Tigers were even worse when it came to getting to the foul line. LSU scored just 18.6 percent of its points from the foul line in 2013-14, a number that ranked last in the SEC and is evidence of its struggles getting the ball to its bigs. O’Bryant was the Tigers’ most effective player when it came to getting to the foul line, and making strides in this area would give LSU more opportunities to put points on the board.

That’s just one area in which the Tigers, especially the members of the front court rotation, will need to account for the departure of their leading scorer. And according to Mickey, the act of “replacing” O’Bryant won’t fall on the shoulders of one player alone.

“We just have to make up for it as a team,” Mickey said. “We have to trust our offense, trust our coaches and not be selfish players.”

Mickey will be a key player for LSU as it looks to return to the NCAA tournament. He comes off of a season in which he established himself as one of the best freshmen in the SEC. Mickey started all 34 games for the Tigers in his first season, averaging 12.8 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per contest and ranking sixth in the SEC in field goal percentage (53.4 percent). Mickey’s worked hard to become a more consistent mid-range shooter, and for his new point guard, the experience of playing together at adidas Nations served as an eye-opener with regards to the amount of talent Mickey possesses.

“Coming out here and playing on the same team, that’s helped a lot,” Gray said at the time. “Now I know what he likes, what he doesn’t like and what positions he’s [at his best]. He cleans up the boards, he runs the floor, gets second-chance [opportunities] and blocks shots.”

This season, LSU won’t lack for talent in a conference that will once again be led by a loaded Kentucky squad and reigning league champ Florida. And once again, the question for the rest of the conference is who can step forward to challenge those two perennial juggernauts. The Tigers fashion themselves as a team capable of doing so, with their returnees and new faces like Gray and Hornsby, who has the potential to give this group the perimeter shooter needed to complement their front court options.

Yet in order to do so LSU will need to play with greater consistency than they did in 2013-14. With last year’s freshmen now sophomores, the hope is that last season’s experiences have helped those players grow. And with there being just one senior on this year’s roster, a good 2014-15 could very well serve as a springboard into the future for Johnny Jones’ Tigers.

Latest Posts
  1. Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker injured at practice on Friday

    Oct 24, 2014, 8:05 PM EDT

    AP AP

    The Wisconsin forward is likely to miss a week or two

  2. Providence freshman forward, a top 100 recruit, is cleared to play this season

    Oct 24, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT

    Ed Cooley Ed Cooley

    Ed Cooley adds a 6-foot-8 forward to the Friars’ front court.

  3. Larry Brown talks about Ben Emelogu’s wavier to play this season (VIDEO)

    Oct 24, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    The former Virginia Tech Hokie will be a big boost to SMU’s perimeter.

  4. Manhattan’s returnees look to build on the achievements of last season’s senior class

    Oct 24, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT

    Emmy Andujar and Shane Richards will be key players for Manhattan. (AP Photo) AP

    Manhattan and head coach Steve Masiello had some issues to address this spring, but thanks in part to their departed senior class the Jaspers are well-positioned to once again contend in the MAAC.

  5. Five-star 2015 power forward down to five schools

    Oct 24, 2014, 5:05 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpti1yzy1ymy3ytizody1zwrhyzfhmme2odcxyjawntbi AP

    One of the nation’s highly-touted bigs is closer to making a decision after eliminating two programs from his list.

  6. LSU’s Johnny Jones receives raise, contract extension

    Oct 24, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT

    Johnny Jones AP

    Jones became the second coach to lead LSU to postseason appearances in his first two years this past spring.

  7. 2014-15 Season Preview: Rivals Iona, Manhattan have company in race to the top of the MAAC

    Oct 24, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    Manhattan's Steve Masiello (AP Photo) Manhattan's Steve Masiello (AP Photo)

    Rivals Iona and Manhattan are once again among the contenders, but they’ll have plenty of company in the race for the MAAC crown.

  8. UMass rewards Derek Kellogg with contract extension through 2018-19 season

    Oct 24, 2014, 1:52 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Kellogg’s led his alma mater to 21 wins or more in each of the last three seasons.

  9. Former Big East foes announce home-and-home series

    Oct 24, 2014, 12:39 PM EDT

    John Thompson III AP

    Georgetown holds a 35-29 lead in their all-time series with UConn.

  10. Top 25 Countdown: No. 11 Villanova Wildcats

    Oct 24, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Villanova went 29-5 last season and return essentially the same lineup. Why aren’t more people talking about them?

  11. Four-star shooting guard verbally commits to Texas

    Oct 24, 2014, 12:13 PM EDT

    Rick Barnes AP

    Texas now has two four-star commitments, with Kerwin Roach joining Eric Davis on Friday.

  12. Three-star guard becomes Baylor’s fifth 2015 commitment

    Oct 24, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    Scott Drew AP

    Of Baylor’s five verbal commitments in the Class of 2015 four are guards, including their latest commit.

  13. Syracuse, NCAA Committee on Infractions meeting set for October 30-31

    Oct 24, 2014, 12:06 AM EDT

    Jim Boeheim AP

    Syracuse’s men’s basketball and football programs are under investigation, with the stakes being higher for Jim Boeheim’s program.

  14. Georgetown’s senior center looking to rebound from ‘embarrassing’ 2013-14 season

    Oct 23, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT

    Moses Ayegba, Joshua Smith Moses Ayegba, Joshua Smith

    Joshua Smith averaged 11.5 points per game before being ruled academically ineligible last season.

  15. Cameron Payne didn’t expect to fill Isaiah Canaan’s void at Murray State, but he did

    Oct 23, 2014, 10:49 PM EDT

    Cameron Payne (AP Photo) Cameron Payne (AP Photo)

    Cam Payne became the star of Murray State as a freshman, but he wouldn’t have gotten there if he had a back up. Why?

  16. VCU announces addition of 17-year old Morgan Vega to basketball program (VIDEO)

    Oct 23, 2014, 9:53 PM EDT

    Shaka Smart Shaka Smart

    The preseason favorites to win the Atlantic 10 added a new teammate Thursday.

  17. Junior guard decides to leave Charlotte program

    Oct 23, 2014, 8:03 PM EDT

    Demetrius Pollard, Shawn Lester Demetrius Pollard, Shawn Lester

    Shawn Lester averaged 11.9 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in the sixth man role last season.

  18. Iowa State guard to undergo surgery on both hips

    Oct 23, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT

    Hallice Cooke AP

    Hallice Cooke will have one hip operated on Monday, with the second surgery coming four weeks later.

  19. Three-star small forward becomes Oklahoma’s third 2015 commitment

    Oct 23, 2014, 5:41 PM EDT

    Lon Kruger AP

    Christian James joins Rashard Odomes and Akolda Manyang in Oklahoma’s 2015 haul.