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Can LSU play up to its talent level this season after disappointing ’13-’14?

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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.

RELATED: Rating the performance of every college player at adidas Nations

“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.

MORE: Superlatives for the best college players at adidas Nations

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.

Wichita State’s Anton Grady returns home with team

AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.
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Wichita State forward Anton Grady was released from a hospital in Orlando on Sunday afternoon in time to return home with his Shocker teammates.

Grady suffered a spinal corn concussion on Friday when he collided head-first with an Alabama defender, snapping his head sharply to the side. He lay on the court motionless for 10 minutes after the injury and was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

[RELATED: Can WSU still make tourney?]

“I want to send out a big thank you to Shocker Nation and all of my friends and family for of the love and encouragement that I have received the past few days,” Grady said in a statement on Sunday morning. “I’ve been reading your tweets and posts and appreciate every last one of them. I have a lot of work to do to get back on the court, but with the help of such a great support system, I’m ready for the challenge.”

By Friday night, Grady had feeling in all of his extremities, but he has a long road of rehab ahead of him.

SUNDAY’S SNACKS: No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 23 Xavier roll

Ryan Spangler
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This will be updated throughout the evening.


No. 7 Oklahoma 65, Wisconsin 48: One team returned most of its rotation from a season ago and has its roles (for the most part) defined, while the other is still figuring out how its pieces fit together. That was one of the big differences between the Sooners and Badgers in Norman, as Oklahoma got out to a quick start and won comfortably. Ryan Spangler led four Sooners in double figures with 20 points while also grabbing 14 rebounds. Nigel Hayes scored 20 for Wisconsin but did so on 5-for-17 shooting, and as a team the Badgers shot 23.5 percent.

No. 23 Xavier 90, Dayton 61: The rivals’ first meeting since 2013 lacked drama in the second half, as the Musketeers went on a 21-0 run and led by as many as 29 points. Edmond Sumner led the balanced attack with 14 points, with eight Musketeers scoring eight points or more. More can be read about this game here.

Monmouth 83, USC 73: The Hawks avenged their first loss of the season, beating the Trojans in the third place game at the AdvoCare Invitational. Justin Robinson scored 26 points, setting a record for points in the event (passing Michael Beasley), and Monmouth now has three wins over power conference teams (UCLA, Notre Dame and USC). Given their talent and résumé to this point, Monmouth will be a team to keep an eye on as the season progresses.


Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma: 20 points and 14 rebounds in the Sooners’ 65-48 home win over Wisconsin.

Egidijus Mockevicius, Evansville: Mockevicius scored 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the Purple Aces’ 75-56 win over UC Irvine.

Miles Wright, Dartmouth: Wright scored 39 points (13-for-22 FG) and grabbed six rebounds in Dartmouth’s 79-56 win over LIU Brooklyn.


Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Everyone struggled for the Badgers including Koenig, who shot 3-for-18 from the field in their loss at No. 7 Oklahoma.

Anthony Drmic, Boise State: In the Broncos’ loss to No. 11 Arizona, Drmic scored eight points but shot 1-for-12 from the field and committed six turnovers.


  • Grayson Allen scored 22 points and Luke Kennard added 22 off the bench as No. 6 Duke handed Utah State its first loss, 82-52.
  • No. 20 Wichita State completed its trip to the AdvoCare Invitational with an 84-61 loss to Iowa. The Shockers are shorthanded with Fred VanVleet, Landry Shamet and Anton Grady all sitting out, but the losses make upcoming opportunities for quality wins even more important.
  • Keith Frazier scored 23 points and freshman Jarrey Foster tallied 15 off the bench as No. 25 SMU took care of Brown, 77-69.
  • No. 11 Arizona beat Boise State for the second time in ten days, winning third place at the DirecTV Wooden Legacy by the final score of 68-59. Kadeem Allen and Allonzo Trier scored 13 points apiece, with Allen also grabbing seven rebounds.
  • Retin Obasohan’s basket in the final seconds gave Alabama a 74-73 win over No. 17 Notre Dame, meaning that the Fighting Irish went 1-2 at the AdvoCare Invitational. Obasohan scored a game-high 19 for the Crimson Tide, while Steve Vasturia led Notre Dame with 18 points.


  • Haanif Cheatham scored 24 points and Duane Wilson added 16 as Marquette beat Jackson State 80-61 in Milwaukee.
  • Four McGlynn scored a career-high 27 points in Rhode Island’s 82-57 win over Rider. He and freshman Christion Thompson, key players with E.C. Matthews out for the season, combined to shoot 9-for-15 from three.
  • Yale played without star forward Justin Sears due to illness and Albany took advantage, blowing out the Bulldogs 88-54. Evan Singletary scored 21 for the winners.
  • Josh Scott led the way with 18 points, eight rebounds and five blocks as Colorado moved to 5-1 on the season with an 82-52 win over Northern Colorado.
  • An Eric Jacobson basket with two seconds remaining gave Arizona State a 70-68 win over UCSB. Jacobson finished with ten points and eight rebounds, and UCSB’s Michael Bryson led all scorers with 23 points to go along with five rebounds and six assists.
  • Justin Edwards finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists as Kansas State hung on for a two-point win over South Carolina State.
  • Kai Healy (14 points, seven rebounds) and Nate Kratch (12 points, ten rebounds) led the way as previously winless Santa Clara beat Boston College 62-45. The Broncos limited the Eagles to 28 percent shooting.
  • Tony Parker and Isaac Hamilton scored 14 points apiece as UCLA blew out CSUN, 77-45.
  • Sunday wasn’t a good day for Texas-based teams playing non-Division I opponents. UTSA fell to Texas-Permian Basin 90-85, and Sam Houston State was knocked off by Wiley College 66-65.