SEC Season Preview: LSU Tigers

Posted by David Changas on November 12th, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next week, continuing today with LSU.

LSU Tigers

Strengths. In many other conferences Johnny Jones would have the best frontcourt in the entire league. Alas, this is the conference that Kentucky’s parade of McDonald’s All-American bigs call home. Nonetheless, LSU is loaded up front and hoping Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin can key a breakthrough season in Baton Rouge. Mickey raked in the hardware last season, landing on the All-SEC Second Team, All-Freshman Team and All-Defensive Team. After flirting with the NBA Draft last spring, he returns as one of the best rebounders (7.9 RPG) and shot-blockers (3.1 BPG) in the conference. Martin is an athletic forward who can play on the perimeter, and he got better as the season went along. His statistics across the board were better in conference play than they were in non-conference play, including an offensive rating that jumped from a nice 108.6 to a better 113.9. Massive freshman center Elbert Robinson III may only play in short spurts, but at 7’0’’ and 300 pounds, he’ll be a challenge for any defense. Fellow freshman forward Aaron Epps has drawn praise from Jones for his defensive rebounding and also figures to enter the frontcourt rotation.

Jordan Mickey will look to improve on his All-SEC Second Team freshman season (

Jordan Mickey will look to improve on his All-SEC Second Team freshman season. (

Weaknesses. Leadership. I’m always hesitant to write about something intangible that I can’t possibly understand or measure from my seat on the couch, but LSU is an undeniably young team. Their leaders, at least by performance, figure to be Mickey (a sophomore), Martin (a sophomore), Gray (first year in the program) and Hornsby (a transfer). The only senior on the roster is John Odo, who averaged 5.2 minutes per game last year. In an alternate universe the Tigers would have two seniors playing big minutes, but Johnny O’Bryant entered the NBA Draft and Anthony Hickey transferred to Oklahoma State. You don’t need to look further than Kentucky’s run to the National Championship game last year to see that youth and inexperience don’t preclude success. But in a season filled with high hopes, someone on LSU will need to fill the leadership role in the locker room and on the floor.

Toughest Non-Conference Test. Only one game pops out, and it’s a December 4 trip to Morgantown to face Juwan Staten and West Virginia. Aside from that the schedule lacks any games that would put LSU on the national radar. A December 2 visit from UMass, a team that beat the Tigers a year ago, could be tricky, as could a November 18 visit from Texas Tech. But you certainly can’t categorize either of those as marquee games. These lack of opportunities leaves the Tigers with a small margin for error in SEC play.

Toughest Conference Stretch. It might be a reach, but LSU’s mid-February slate of games could be difficult. The Tigers have back-to-back road games against Texas A&M and Tennessee and can’t afford to slip up against two teams fighting for league respect. They then get Florida at home before heading out to play an Auburn team that could surprise in Bruce Pearl’s first year. Okay, it might not be much, but that’s the SEC for you.

Projected Starters:

  • G Josh Gray (6’1’’)
  • G Keith Hornsby (6’4’’)
  • G Tim Quarterman (6’6’’)
  • F Jarell Martin (6’10’’)
  • F Jordan Mickey (6’8’’)

Mickey and Martin are unequivocally the focal points of this team, and one of the most talented duos on any roster in the country. Mickey especially will need to show that his offense won’t dip with defenses no longer focusing on O’Bryant. Gray has endured a rocky, and at times tragic, road back home to Louisiana. The former Texas Tech guard had a solid freshman season in the Big 12 two years ago with the ninth best assist rate and third most steals in the conference. Jones will hand him the reins to the team with Hickey now playing at Oklahoma State. Hornsby is an intriguing addition to the team after sitting out last season due to the transfer rule. He was one of the better offensive players in the Big South as a sophomore at UNC-Asheville, averaging 15.0 points per game and shooting 37.9 percent from three, and it appears that his long-range marksmanship fit well next to Martin and Mickey. Quarterman is a rangy natural point guard who will likely see a lot of minutes in a thin backcourt.

Projected Bench:

  • G Jalyn Patterson (6’0’’)
  • F Brian Bridgewater (6’5’’)
  • F Aaron Epps (6’9’’)
  • F John Odo (6’10’’)
  • C Elbert Robinson III (7’0’’)

This is where the loss of Hickey hurts the most since Jones doesn’t have much guard depth. He only gave Carlton Speight and Antonio Robinson two minutes apiece in the Tigers’ latest exhibition game, suggesting that neither are in the rotation plans. This means that the freshman Patterson will likely play heavy minutes right off the bat. The Tigers may also need the super-talented Martin to log minutes on the wing, a spot he played last year when Mickey and O’Bryant were on the court. It’s the opposite situation for Jones in the frontcourt, where he should have a number of solid players to back up his two stars. Bridgewater will make his LSU debut after spending last season in NCAA eligibility limbo, and Robinson could end up starting before the season is over.

Johnny Jones looks to validate his contract extension with a NCAA tournament appearance.

Johnny Jones looks to validate his contract extension with an NCAA Tournament appearance.

If Everything Goes Right... There are good feelings about the basketball program in Baton Rouge right now, as exhibited by the recent extension that Jones received. Recruiting has been good and the Tigers enter the season with realistic NCAA Tournament aspirations. I’ve discussed Mickey and Martin’s talent ad nauseam — they are simply two players who can carry a team, and are joined this year by a couple of solid guards in Gray and Hornsby. The most intriguing part of LSU’s roster, however, might be Robinson III. Other college teams simply don’t have players that can match up with his size, and if he develops quickly, the Tigers could transform into a team that gets to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

If Nothing Goes Right... Life could prove difficult without O’Bryant commanding attention in the post and wearing down opposing big men. Mickey and Martin are now the main attractions and need to show that they can be first option, go-to offensive players over the course of an entire season. Neither can afford many down nights either, since the Tigers are not deep in the backcourt. Gray and Hornsby will be relied on heavily but neither has played in a Division I game since 2012-13. LSU simply can’t afford rusty starts and backward steps in its season-long development. A weak non-conference schedule could also be problematic. The Tigers won’t get the benefit of the doubt from its SEC affiliation, so they must avoid embarrassing non-conference losses and take advantage of the few SEC opportunities there are. If they fail to do either of those things, they’ll find themselves out of the NCAA Tournament field and waiting on the next group of talented freshman to provide hope.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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