LSU Comes Out of Old Spice Eyeing an NCAA YearPosted by Greg Mitchell on December 3rd, 2013
LSU got a trip to Disney World out of the Old Spice Classic, and no one can take away from them. As cool as that is, the Tigers also ended up leaving the happiest place on earth with a quality win over Butler, and that’s pretty cool too. LSU opened the tournament with a decisive win over Saint Joseph’s. That could end up being a resume-booster because the Hawks competed in a close game with Creighton, but not much is known about Phil Martelli’s group yet (KenPom #77). LSU then led Memphis at halftime of their next game but a sloppy, turnover-filled second half resulted in a seven-point loss.
Next up was Butler, a team that obviously still carries name value and had shown something by clawing back into its previous game with Oklahoma State to lose by two. The Tigers overcame a late six-point deficit and executed a must-have three by Anthony Hickey in the final seconds to force overtime. Leaving Orlando with a close loss to Butler would have been frustrating. They would have been saddled with three close losses to good teams, suggesting that the Tigers don’t yet have the ability to win against good competition in those situations. They also would’ve been beaten in a variety of ways. LSU couldn’t take care of the ball against Memphis, turning it over 24 times. Against Butler, LSU held the Bulldogs to just 33 percent shooting but got beat up on the offensive glass (18). You can challenge shots and force bad ones, but it won’t matter much if you keep giving up second chances.
The good news for LSU is that the Tigers did fight back and win the game. From a confidence perspective this was important. No one on LSU’s roster has NCAA Tournament experience in their college careers. For a team looking to make the jump to SEC contender, getting a close win against a good team where it was forced to execute in late game situations is big. Furthermore, LSU doesn’t have any quality non-conference opponents left on its schedule. A home game against UAB and a road game at Texas Tech offer the stiffest tests. UAB may be better than originally thought given its recent win over North Carolina, or North Carolina could just be maddeningly inconsistent.
A few things stand out for LSU after this tournament. Jarrell Martin hasn’t made the instant impact of some of his fellow McDonald’s All-Americans. He’s struggled to find his place in the offense, and spends too much drifting out by the three-point line. But that is okay. Part of this is probably due to the ankle injury he suffered in the opener, and there’s a reason Julius Randle, Jabari Parker and their brands of instant excellence doesn’t happen every year. Those are special players. Martin, however, did make some nice plays down the stretch against Butler on which he can build. He had a resounding putback dunk and an important drive and score late in the game. The more he operates around the rim, the better. He and LSU as a whole should look to get out into transition as much as possible. Martin, Johnny O’Bryant, and Jordan Mickey run well for big men, and Hickey and Andre Stringer are lightning-quick.
A negative in the game was clearly the volume of second chances Butler got. O’Bryant and Mickey both have 19 percent defensive rebounding rates, and given their size and athleticism they can’t allow the opponent to run wild on the offensive glass. Another negative was the rest of the team when O’Bryant got the ball in isolation. Obviously it is generally wise to let O’Bryant have his one-on-one opportunities because he’s an athletic beast and mismatch for most defenders. But the rest of the team stood around and watched too much when O’Bryant was in isolation, and this let Butler get numerous uncontested defensive rebounds. The isolation play and involvement of the rest of the team is a fine line to walk, but the Tigers need to do better in this area.
The important thing for LSU is they won more games than it lost in Orlando. While beating Memphis would have been nice, they proved they can win a close game against a good team with the win over Butler, and can certainly use this going forward into the December part of the schedule.