Monday night’s decisive loss at the College of Charleston was the worst performance of the young season for an LSU team saddled with lofty expectations. The Tigers couldn’t make shots, and even though he managed to tally 15 points, 18 rebounds and four assists in that game freshman forward Ben Simmons shot 4-for-15 from the field and also had seven turnovers.
LSU needed to rebound Wednesday night against Atlantic Sun preseason favorite North Florida and they did, winning 119-108 thanks in large part to an incredible performance from their 6-foot-10 freshman phenom.
Simmons shot 15-for-20 from the field, with just two of those attempts coming outside of the paint, scored 43 points while also accounting for 14 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and three blocked shots. And he only turned the ball over twice against the Ospreys, who didn’t look to double-team Simmons all that often. He took advantage, getting to just about wherever he wanted to go on the court against a team whose tallest player who saw action was 6-foot-8.
Look at that stat line! Ben Simmons' 43 pts tonight are the most by an LSU player since Shaq also scored 43 in 1991. pic.twitter.com/tCFJySQmuN
So what do we take out of this? A historic performance, one in which Simmons joined Shaquille O’Neal and Pete Maravich as the lone players in school history to score 43 points in a game? Or a game in which, while acknowledging Simmons’ achievements, the Tigers allowed 108 points? How about both?
Wednesday’s game produced multiple standout offensive performances, with UNF’s tandem of Beau Beech and Dallas Moore scoring 31 points apiece and LSU guards Josh Gray and Tim Quarterman both posting stat lines of 20 points, six assists and one turnover on the night. But it would be Simmons, projected by many to be the top pick in next June’s NBA Draft, who stole the show.
The performance certainly deserves praise. But if Simmons is to have the opportunity to showcase his skills on college basketball’s biggest stage, LSU has some strides to make defensively.
Compliance issue costs LSU senior guard trip to Australia
LSU will be without Josh Gray as they get ready to depart on their trip to Australia this month.
Gray played in a game this summer in a league that was not sanctioned by the NCAA and was not vetted by LSU’s compliance department.
“We had a little bit of a setback with Josh Gray playing in some type of game that wasn’t sanctioned prior to checking with our compliance people,” head coach Johnny Jones told The Advocate. “Until compliance goes through whatever issues that they have to and filter things out, I won’t have any further comment on it.”
Gray, a junior, averaged 7.1 points and 3.8 assists in 20 starts in his first season with the Tigers. He transferred into the program from a JuCo in Texas after spending his freshman season at Texas Tech.
Tim Quarterman is expected to start at the point for LSU this season, meaning that Gray will be competing with Keith Hornsby, who started all 33 games last season, and freshman Antonio Blakeney for a starting spot off the ball.
LSU starting point guard will miss time with injured ankle
LSU starting point guard Josh Gray will miss some time with an ankle injury that the junior suffered on Saturday in a win over Sam Houston State. The 6-foot-1 Gray landed awkwardly on his right ankle three minutes into the second half and did not return after being looked at by trainers.
The Tigers have a game against UAB on Thursday and if Gray is in a boot and on crutches it might be tough for him to be ready for that game. After that, LSU has three more non-conference games before SEC play begins with a Jan. 8 game at Missouri, so Gray will hopefully be healthy by then.
If Gray can’t go, the Tigers could promote sixth man Tim Quarterman from the bench, as the 6-foot-6 sophomore has played well this season off the bench. It would give LSU more size but less perimeter shooting and perimeter depth.
Gray is averaging 11.1 points, 4.7 assists and 3 rebounds per game this season while shooting 47 percent from the field and 44 percent from the three-point line. He can really fill it up from the perimeter, but he’s also averaging 3.7 turnovers per game and can get reckless with the ball.
With Kentucky having established itself as the class of the SEC (if not the country) and Florida off to a slow start, it remains to be seen how the SEC will shake out in this final month before the start of conference play. One team looking to insert itself into the NCAA tournament bid conversation is LSU, and based upon talent alone there really isn’t a reason why LSU shouldn’t be in contention for an NCAA tournament bid come March.
However for a good portion of their game at No. 16 West Virginia on Thursday, LSU didn’t value the basketball in the manner fitting of an NCAA tournament team. Johnny Jones’ Tigers committed 24 turnovers, allowing the WVU pressure defense to get them going at a nearly chaotic tempo in the open floor. Add in a quiet night from Jordan Mickey, and most would assume that LSU was headed back to Baton Rouge with a loss.
However that would not be the case. Josh Gray’s driving layup with 7.4 seconds remaining proved to be the difference as LSU came back from 14 points down and handed the Mountaineers their first loss of the season by the final score of 74-73.
Both Gray and Keith Hornsby, two guards who began their college careers at other institutions, made plays down the stretch to give LSU a quality win for their resume. Hornsby was solid throughout, scoring 15 points and grabbing five rebounds, while Gray put forth a performance that wasn’t his best even with the game-winner. Gray scored seven points and dished out seven assists, but he also committed eight of LSU’s 24 turnovers.
Offensively Gray is a more impactful point guard for LSU than Anthony Hickey, now at Oklahoma State, was last season. But they can ill-afford to have him pressing the issue as he did on multiple occasions against West Virginia. Add in Jarell Martin’s (18 points, 14 rebounds) seven turnovers, and two players were responsible for 15 turnovers. West Virginia converted those turnovers into 25 points, but LSU managed to outscore West Virginia by 14 in the paint (36-22) and by ten on fast-break points (14-4).
It wasn’t pretty, especially with the turnovers and Jordan Mickey contributing just four points and six rebounds due in large part to foul trouble. But Johnny Jones’ team found a way to leave Morgantown with a win, and come March how the result looked won’t matter all that much when LSU’s resume is evaluated.
1. Kadeem Allen, Arizona: The NJCAA National Player of the Year tallied 1,425 career points in his two first-team All-American seasons at Hutchinson Community College (Kansas). While the 6-foot-3 power guard likely won’t be in the starting five, he will a key scoring option coming off the bench. This past season with the Blue Dragons, he averaged 25.9 points per game.
2. Cinmeon Bowers, Auburn: An NCAA show-cause penalty didn’t stop Bruce Pearl from landing one of the top JuCo recruits in the country this past spring. The former Florida State signee averaged 12.4 points and 8.9 rebounds last season at Chipola Junior College (Florida) The Tigers lose their top scorer and their top rebounder from last season’s 14-16 team. Bowers can help in those departments, especially on the glass, where Auburn had one of the worst rebounding teams in the SEC.
3. Josh Gray, LSU: No Andre Stringer and no Anthony Hickey this season for an LSU program looking to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009. At Odessa College last season, Gray averaged 33.8 points and 5.9 assists per game. The former Texas Tech floor general, who averaged 9.3 points a night in 2012-2013, is joined by UNC Asheville transfer Keith Hornsby. The brand-new back court should compliment the frontline of sophomores Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin.
4. Jordan Goodman, New Mexico: After three commitments and a stint in Harcum College (Pennsylvania), the 6-foot-9 Goodman is set to begin his first season with the reigning Mountain West tournament champion. Goodman, a first-team All-American, has yet to be cleared for full-contact drills after having knee surgery this summer, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
5. Stephen Hurt, Kansas State: The former Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year used a year at Northwest Florida State to catapult himself into a highly-sought after forward. After committing to K-State, he’ll join a team looking to push back up the Big 12 Conference standings. The 6-foot-11 center averaged 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in his lone season in the JuCo ranks after transferring from Lipscomb.
6. Trahson Burrell & Chris Hawkins, Memphis: Josh Pastner brought in several JuCo recruits who could be contributors this season. The 6-foot-7 Burrell was cleared last month after posting 25.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game at Lee College (Texas). Hawkins, a JuCo forward, averaged 12.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game for the Tigers in their four games in Canada this summer.
7. Ivan Cruz Uceda, Miami: At 6-foot-10 Uceda gives the ‘Canes an inside presence. The ex-Harcum forward made an immediate impact on the glass in Miami’s trip to Spain, pulling down 11.0 boards per game. Uceda’s debut with Miami will be delayed until the second semester due to an NCAA rule.
8. Octavius Ellis, Cincinnati: Mick Cronin needs to replace the production left behind by Justin Jackson on the Cincy frontline. The 6-foot-10 forward Ellis, back in Bearcat uniform, averaged 14.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks as a first-team All-American at Trinity Valley Community College (Texas). He arrives in Cincinnati with another JuCo big, Coreontae DeBerry.
9. Dwayne Benjamin & Michael Chandler, Oregon: Three players dismissed and two more failing to enroll leaves plenty of opportunities for newcomers to make an impact on this Oregon team. The 6-foot-10 Chandler, a former four-star recruit, is the projected starting center while Benjamin can help out on the wing along with freshman Dillon Brooks.
10. Jeff Newberry, Oklahoma State: Phil Forte is back, but Marcus Smart and Markel Brown leave big holes to fill. Insert JuCo guard Jeff Newberry and LSU transfer Anthony Hickey. The 6-foot-2 Newberry could end up playing either guard position this season for Travis Ford’s new-look perimeter.
TEN MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Sam Cassell Jr., UConn: Son of the longtime NBA point guard adds depth to the UConn back court. Cassell was a first-team All-American in his only season at Chipola.
Gary Payton II, Oregon State: The son of the Hall of Famer enrolls as his father’s alma mater, where after a coaching change he will be looked upon to contribute right away.
Kevin Punter, Tennessee: The State Fair Community College product committed to Tennessee and new head coach Donnie Tyndall. Punter averaged 20.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.
Torian Graham and Devonta Pollard, Houston: The two-time N.C. State commit is joining Kelvin Sampson at Houston. Graham was once ranked No. 67 overall by Rivals. Former McDonald’s All-American and Alabama forward Devonta Pollard is also an addition for the Cougars this season.
Carlos Morris, Minnesota: The 6-foot-5 combo guard averaged 14.7 points 5.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game for Chipola. The former Rivals 150 guard can crack the Golden Gophers’ starting five.
Tom “Bush” Wamukota, Wichita State: The Shockers have a pair of All-American-caliber guards, but the 6-foot-11 Wamukota could be a lift on the frontline alongside Darius Carter.
Keith Thomas, St. John’s: The nation’s leading rebounder this past season at Westchester Community College (New York) hauled in 15.7 boards per game in addition to his 15.3 points a contest.
Willie Atwood, Arizona State: A season after returning to the NCAA tournament, the Sun Devils will bring in seven newcomers, four of whom are from the JuCo ranks. The 6-foot-8 Atwood was a All-American honorable mention selection, averaging 20.8 points per game for Connors State College (Oklahoma).
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.
“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.
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.