This preview and more on LSU and the SEC are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
LSU Facts & Figures
Last season: 19-12 (9-9 SEC)
Coach: Johnny Jones (19-12 at LSU)
SEC projection: Fourth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
Johnny Jones’ mission when he returned to coach his alma mater in 2012 was to make LSU basketball relevant again. After a one-year transition period, he has the Tigers’ poised to make their first postseason appearance in five seasons.
The Tigers return five of their top six scorers, including SEC Player of the Year candidate Johnny O’Bryant. They also welcome a top-10 recruiting class, highlighted by 6-8 local product Jarell Martin.
The signing of Martin was critical to the program. His arrival has energized the local fan base and created momentum for Jones’ program on the recruiting trail. The Tigers are now viewed as a program on the rise, and the Maravich Assembly Center should be hopping for the first time in several years.
The strength of the Tigers’ lineup is inside, where O’Bryant and Martin combine to form an imposing tandem on the blocks and boards.
The 6-9 O’Bryant contemplated early entry to the NBA and can enhance his draft status with an improved junior season. He will be among the best big men in the league, along with Florida’s Patric Young, Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes and Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein.
O’Bryant ranked among the league leaders in scoring (13.6 ppg), rebounding (8.7 rpg) and shooting (48 percent). He used his superior size and strength to dominate on the blocks and isn’t shy about demanding the ball in the paint.
O’Bryant committed a team-high 3.2 turnovers per game last season primarily because of collapsing defenses. He should find more room to operate in the paint with opponents forced to guard Martin in the high-low game. Martin, who can hit the mid-range jumper, plays with a non-stop motor and will be a force on the boards at both ends.
Senior Shavon Coleman is the glue guy at small forward. A big-time athlete, he’s an exceptional rebounder for his 6-5 size and can defend three positions. He’s not a great shooter but makes his hay on drives and put-backs.
Heralded freshman small forward Jordan Mickey, a top-40 national recruit, is expected to challenge for a starting spot and add immediate offensive punch on the wing.
Undersized freshman power forward Brian Bridgewater, junior college transfer John Odo and freshman center Darcy Malone add depth. Odo, a native of Nigeria, enrolled at LSU last January and practiced with the Tigers the remainder of the season.
Andre Stringer and Anthony Hickey are the Tigers’ version of Louisville’s successful guard tandem of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Both are pesky, undersized defenders with streaky offensive games. The 5-11 Hickey led the SEC in steals last season at the point, but has fallen in and out of Jones’ doghouse. He must become more mature and fill the leadership void created by the graduation of Charles Carmouche.
The presence of O’Bryant and Martin ensures the Tigers will face a lot of zone defenses this season. That theoretically should provide many open looks for Stringer and Hickey. They’ll need to shoot consistently from the perimeter to keep opponents honest and prevent them from focusing their defensive efforts inside. Neither is considered a sharpshooter, but both are capable of getting hot from behind the arc. Stringer ranked second (40.9 percent) and Hickey sixth (32.8) in the SEC in 3-point field-goal percentage.
Sophomore Malik Morgan and freshman Tim Quarterman are classic combo guards who are the heirs apparent to Stringer and Hickey in the backcourt. Morgan is a streaky scorer with a slashing game. Last year, he scored in double figures only three times with a high of 12 in a loss at Tennessee. With added strength, the staff believes Morgan could have a breakout season.
The wiry 6-6 Quarterman has excellent size and can play just about anywhere on the perimeter. He was a top-100 recruit who picked LSU over a host of SEC schools.
Jarell Martin, LSU’s best recruit in a decade, owns a pro body and a pro-style pick-and-pop game. Tim Quarterman should compete immediately for playing time on the wing and at point. His versatile skill set allows him to play three positions. Junior college center John Odo bolsters the interior depth and is a solid rebounder and shot-blocker. Australian big man Darcy Malone is the classic stretch power forward-center who patterns his game after Dirk Nowitzki. Brian Bridgewater is an undersized power forward who adds physicality inside.
Factoid: 62.5. LSU shot only 62.5 from the foul line last season, ranking last in the SEC and 331st in the nation. Johnny O’Bryant, who led the team with 141 attempts, shot 59.6 percent.
If anything, Jones is one year ahead of schedule in his rebuilding effort. His recruiting success has created excitement about LSU basketball for the first time in years. The Tigers’ deep, talented frontcourt is among the best in the SEC. If the Tigers’ perimeter players can provide consistent offense, LSU should return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.