On the Bounce

Coleman got the start at Columbia (USA Today)

LSU endured an eventful opening week of SEC play, falling hard to Tennessee before scraping by with a win at South Carolina. TSD publisher Ben Love brings you the latest from LSU basketball, including what the recent starting lineup change really means for the Tigers.

What began as a week of despair and embarrassment for LSU basketball found a saving grace in Columbia, S.C., Saturday afternoon, temporarily resuscitating postseason dreams and possibilities that were teetering on the verge of life support.

The horror-show portion of the week surprisingly took place at home in the PMAC, where the Tigers were waxed 68-50 by Tennessee (on the heels of a home loss to lowly Rhode Island four days prior). The Volunteers held LSU to its lowest point total in the Johnny Jones Era, prompting the head man to scold his team publicly and promise changes to the starting lineup. Jones delivered on those changes, and after some road drama late, the Tigers prevailed over South Carolina 71-68 on Saturday to even their conference record.

LSU now stands at 10-4 overall, 1-1 in SEC play.

Below I provide three quick hitters on the Tigers, highlighting the latest and most important team news and trends on the court.

Keep an eye out for this weekly feature on Sunday nights through the end of the 2013-14 season.

1. Starting lineup change brought several realities to light

When Johnny Jones elected to move Shavon Coleman and Malik Morgan into the starting lineup at South Carolina, LSU's head coach did so with the intention of kick-starting a team that had gone flat. He also aimed to improve the way his team was starting games defensively and on the glass. But it was actually a ripple effect of this move that made the biggest wave, and in the process confirmed a lot of suspicions.

Freshman Jarell Martin, free to take in the start of games then come off the bench, is the perfect fit for his new role, and LSU's on-court rotations improve drastically with him sitting to start. Here's why (and it's something that's been discussed a ton within the LSU staff until the Tennessee game finally made change inevitable): It's obvious Martin plays best at his most natural position of the four, and he can spend more of his time there – and for longer chunks of time – when spelling whichever of Jordan Mickey or Johnny O'Bryant needs a blow or gets in foul trouble first, instead of beginning the game with them, at the three, and making substitution patterns going forward more difficult.

That Martin netted a career-high 18 points in Columbia is icing on the cake, a sign of maturity and step in the right direction for his development and distancing from the high ankle sprain suffered two months ago. The fact is, though, that Jones, after making a risky move to take his McDonald's All-American out of the starting lineup, stumbled onto the right way to deploy the guy that's been the team's biggest wildcard so far. Coming in some four to six minutes into a ballgame allows Martin to get his run inside for an extended period, and he's showing he can work equally well alongside either Mickey or O'Bryant (just not both for long stretches). What all this boils down to: On Saturday Jones found the most efficient way yet to divvy up the 80 post minutes he has amongst the three guys who should be playing down there.

Now, all the Martin revelations aside, the switch to Coleman in the starting lineup also makes sense for what LSU gains on the front end. Coleman just brings so much energy, movement, defensive prowess and experience when he comes in a game, be it five minutes in or from the opening tap. I expect Jones to continue harnessing that, improving some of the Tigers' defensive matchups on the perimeter. Whether or not Morgan stays in the starting five is another question. His rebounding ability and toughness inside is outstanding for a guard, but Morgan leaves a lot to be desired defensively in halfcourt sets. At least in this instance, I believe Jones is trying to get Andre Stringer going and motivated.

2. There's still no Carmouche on 2013-14 squad

All offseason long this was a big question mark for LSU: How can the Tigers replace athletic wing Charles Carmouche from last year's team? What's become true is kind of what we expected – they can't. There's no player on the 2013-14 team that brings quite the package of things Carmouche, a real glue guy, did. The closest proximity is Coleman, who, now that he's in the starting lineup, brings the Tigers a step closer defensively and in terms of experience (both were seniors) to making up some of what Carmouche brought.


Quarterman is helping backfill Carmouche's former role
What's interesting is I'm starting to realize, especially after the South Carolina game, that Tim Quarterman belongs in the discussion of "next closest thing" as well. Yes, he's a freshman and, yes, he makes freshman mistakes, but he gave LSU some solid minutes (11) in his first SEC road game, filling in for Anthony Hickey and playing without some of the timidity we've seen from him in the early going this season. He doesn't possess some of the offensive tools Carmouche did, but at 6-foot-6 and rangy, Quarterman is another option Jones is showing he'll go to for his aggressive style of man defense. Even at only 13.3 minutes per game, the Savannah, Ga., native can be Carmouche-like in spurts.

Both of these guys, however, just help fill the Carmouche vacancy, but the truth is LSU doesn't necessarily have that one guy who can go out and lock down the other team's best wing scorer. That was evident in each game this week, as Tennessee's Jordan McRae continued his LSU-killing ways with 19 points (3-of-3 from deep) and five assists and Gamecock freshman Sindarius Thornwell scorched the Tigers for 25 points and five rebounds. Look for more experimentation from Jones with Coleman, Quarterman and other athletic wings to cover up what Jones himself referred to as LSU "getting exposed" defensively by Tennessee.

3. Jordan Mickey is LSU's best player

It occurred to me I haven't actually come out and said this yet on the site, so, there, now I have. It has been the truth all season long, and the biggest reason/distinguishing factor from O'Bryant is that even when Mickey's not playing well offensively or getting anything to fall, he's still a game-changing factor on the glass and in the blocks department. The South Carolina game was a decent example of that, as Mickey struggled mightily to begin the game but stuck with it and got hot at the end of the first half and beginning of the second. In a ‘bad' Mickey game, he finished with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting with four rebounds a steal and a block.

Of course there haven't been many of his performances through 14 games that have been near the ‘bad' range. Earlier this week Jones tabbed Mickey and Coleman as the only players that have brought it every practice and every game. The results show: Mickey has scored in double figures in all but one game – at Texas Tech, when he scored five in only 18 minutes. Every other game – double figures, plus the consistent rebounding (7.2 rpg, second only to O'Bryant's 7.4 rpg), elite shot blocking (3.5 bpg, first on team) and high percentages from the field (59.0%, first) and charity stripe (76.2%, fourth).

Opposing teams a year ago game-planned for LSU around Johnny O'Bryant. This year, they game-plan around Jordan Mickey. It's that simple, and, you'd have to think, it will ultimately be that beneficial for both of LSU's starting bigs. Already a number of teams are laying off doubling O'Bryant for this exact reason. Once JOB learns how to adjust to this and the guards get it inside to the 6-foot-9, 256-pounder with regularity against man coverage, the entire Tiger team will benefit. And at the center of all this is a kid who almost didn't make it past the NCAA Clearinghouse. Luckily for Jones and LSU, they did get their man, and now he's leading the team as a freshman.

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Four-point play: Heading into this past weekend's action, Jordan Mickey's 3.69 blocks per game tied for sixth-best in the entire country, and second-best in the SEC, behind only Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein (3.93) … As much production as LSU starting big men Jordan Mickey and Johnny O'Bryant give the Tigers, they are also the team's two leaders in turning it over. O'Bryant averages a team-worst 3.6 turnovers while Mickey is next in line with 2.7 giveaways per game. The next closest player: another frontcourt player in Jarell Martin (1.8) … Despite rebounding struggles against Tennessee, LSU bounced back at South Carolina, winning the battle of the boards 42-32. Through 14 games the Tigers rank 13th in the NCAA with an average of 41.2 rebounds per game … Eight players for LSU average at least 13.3 minutes per game (Mickey 31.1, O'Bryant 29.5, Hickey 28.6, Stringer 27.2, Martin 21.4, Coleman 19.0, Morgan 17.8 and Quarterman 13.3).

UP NEXT

The Tigers begin the upcoming week in Oxford to take on Ole Miss (10-5, 1-1) Wednesday night at 8 p.m. CST will carry the television broadcast. Andy Kennedy's crew won their conference opener, 65-62, versus Auburn before losing at rival Mississippi State, 76-72, on Saturday. The game will mark the SEC debut for the conference's leading scorer from a season ago, Marshall Henderson, who sat out the Rebels' first two conference games serving a suspension. Henderson is averaging 18.8 points and 4.4 made threes in 12 games played this season and scored 22 in Ole Miss' only meeting with LSU in 2012-13.

Wrapping up the week in SEC play, LSU will return to Baton Rouge to welcome Vanderbilt (8-6, 0-2) into the PMAC Saturday at 8 p.m. ESPNU will carry the television broadcast. Kevin Stallings' Commodores lost their conference opener at Alabama, 68-63, before falling at home to No. 14 Kentucky 71-62. Vandy will trek to the bayou on short rest, coming off a Thursday night home game versus No. 21 Missouri.

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