Aug 13, 2014, 2:14 PM EST
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.
“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.
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.
Nov 26, 2014, 12:28 AM EST
Pinkston made a couple of huge plays down the stretch.
Nov 26, 2014, 12:10 AM EST
Another busy night of college hoops as the Maui semifinals wrap up and Arkansas gets a statement road win.
Nov 25, 2014, 11:50 PM EST
Maryland pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the young season as they outplayed No. 13 Iowa State for much of the game in front of a pro-Cyclone crowd in Kansas City.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s selflessness during the Maui Invitational will help No. 3 Arizona in the long run
Nov 25, 2014, 10:18 PM EST
As Arizona has struggled to find consistent offense early in the 2014-15 season, the consistency and selfless nature of sophomore forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has allowed Sean Miller to experiment with what works early.
Nov 25, 2014, 7:45 PM EST
Kansas head coach Bill Self is trying to get through to his players by changing starting lineups.
Nov 25, 2014, 6:45 PM EST
The former national champion still has the touch.
Nov 25, 2014, 5:55 PM EST
The Barclays Center Classic doubleheader will air on Friday night on NBC Sports Network.
Nov 25, 2014, 5:20 PM EST
The Friars could be depleted on the perimeter against two tough opponents.
Nov 25, 2014, 4:24 PM EST
Minnesota will take a hit to its back court with this suspension.
Nov 25, 2014, 2:58 PM EST
I hope his joke doesn’t make people ignore the fact the he really felt bad about this.
Nov 25, 2014, 2:43 PM EST
We get some good gauge games on Tuesday night.
Nov 25, 2014, 1:18 PM EST
Frank Kaminsky and Jahlil Okafor are near the top, but the rest of the top five may surprise you.
Nov 25, 2014, 12:27 PM EST
Benjamin hurt his ankle against Michigan.
Nov 25, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
Jason McManamen is trying to prove Billy Hoyle and Sidney Dean wrong.
Nov 25, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
Michigan was dominated on the glass, but the freshman forward stepped up to ice the victory.
Nov 25, 2014, 7:00 AM EST
Can a team that runs a pressing system truly be one of the nations elite?
Late Night Snacks: San Diego State and BYU engage in double OT thriller; Nova, Zona earn big wins; Indiana upset at home
Nov 25, 2014, 2:00 AM EST
A busy night of tournament and non-conference action in college hoops made for some big wins for Villanova and Arizona and a home loss for Indiana.
Nov 24, 2014, 11:51 PM EST
We knew Iowa State had a lot of offensive weapons, but with the return of some key rotation players the Cyclones look really tough.
No. 6 Louisville jumps out to 29-0 lead, holds Savannah State scoreless for nearly 16 minutes in easy win
Nov 24, 2014, 9:35 PM EST
Louisville’s defense took it up a notch against Savannah State.
Nov 24, 2014, 8:30 PM EST
Tennessee is losing an assistant coach as a NCAA investigation into head coach Donnie Tyndall’s time at Southern Mississippi continues.
- JayVaughn Pinkston’s block gives No. 12 Villanova a win over No. 19 Michigan (VIDEO) 0
- Maryland upsets No. 13 Iowa State as fearless freshmen mix with gritty veterans for balanced effort 0
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s selflessness during the Maui Invitational will help No. 3 Arizona in the long run 0
- Player of the Year Power Rankings: A familiar face on top, but a few surprises behind him 0
- Ricky Doyle secures 70-63 win for No. 19 Michigan over Oregon in Legends Classic 0
- Villanova’s win is evidence of why VCU may have peaked as a basketball program 13
- Mike Brey was excited about Notre Dame’s loss because the Irish have their closer back 1
- Poll: 54 percent of people think Kentucky beats the 76ers, 54 percent of people are dumb (31)
- Villanova’s win is evidence of why VCU may have peaked as a basketball program (13)
- College Basketball Talk’s latest top 25: Kentucky reigns, but how far will Kansas, Florida slide? (5)
- Rick Pitino on blow out win: ‘We played four white guys and an Egyptian’ (4)
- After getting embarrassed by No. 1 Kentucky, where does No. 5 Kansas go from here? (3)