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January 16, 2013

Telling week for LSU basketball

It was not a good opening week of Southeastern Conference basketball play for LSU.

The Tigers began the league schedule with a winnable road game at Auburn. LSU had a six-point advantage early in the second half, but couldn't hold on. Auburn rallied for a 68-63 victory.

In their SEC home opener last Saturday, the Tigers were competitive for about a half with Florida, the league's best team at this time. The Gators built a nine-point lead in the final four minutes of the first half. Then, Florida rolled to a 22-point victory.

So, the Tigers are winless after the first week of conference play. They have company - Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. That list of teams makes this week an important one for coach Johnny Jones' LSU squad.

Two of those four winless SEC teams are up next for the Tigers - South Carolina on Wednesday at the PMAC and Georgia on Saturday in Athens. Without a doubt, these are two games which LSU can win.

The Tigers will be favored over the visiting Gamecocks. LSU may have no better opportunity at a road victory than its trip to Georgia.

The Tigers are not a contender for the NCAA tournament. But, if LSU is going to approach the .500 mark in the league, a sweep this week is pretty much a necessity.

South Carolina will not provide the Tigers with size problems. Of the Gamecocks' top seven players, only one - Mindaugas Kacinas - is taller than 6-foot-5. The 6-7 Kacinas is averaging a mere three points and four rebounds per game.

Like LSU, South Carolina is a perimeter-oriented team under hard-nosed first-year coach Frank Martin. Still, the Gamecocks have outrebounded their two SEC opponents - Mississippi State and Auburn - by eight boards a game.

Martin, who left Kansas State for South Carolina, will make sure his players display intensity and toughness on the court. The Gamecocks have lost their two SEC games by a total of five points. LSU must be ready to match South Carolina's effort from the outset.

It has been a struggle on the offensive end of the floor for the Tigers in their first two SEC defeats. LSU has made just 35 percent of its field goal attempts, including 29 percent on 3-pointers. To compound matters, the Tigers were 8-of-20 at the foul line.

Of the top six players in the rotation, only Anthony Hickey and Andrew Del Piero have made more than 40 percent of their shots from the field. Hickey is at a team-best 48 percent (12-of-25), while Del Piero is at 46 percent (5-of-11).

The two individuals who performed fairly well in non-conference play have not been as productive in the first two SEC games. Charles Carmouche and Shavon Coleman have scored a combined 33 points. Together, they are 13-of-44 from the field.

Eleven of Carmouche's 18 points came in the last minute of the game at Auburn. He has missed 11 of his 16 attempts from behind the 3-point line. Coleman has been bothered by the length of SEC post players and has missed 15 of his 22 shots.

LSU has been outrebounded by 8.5 boards per game after one week. However, Florida was the reason for that deficit as it had 19 more rebounds than the Tigers.

A comparison of the contributions of Del Piero and Johnny O'Bryant shows another problem for LSU. Del Piero, the former walk-on, has accounted for 11 points and 11 rebounds in 46 minutes.

Meanwhile, O'Bryant has provided the Tigers eight points and 12 rebounds in 39 minutes. O'Bryant, who is dealing with an ankle sprain, sat out the last 18 minutes of the Florida game. LSU needs major contributions from O'Bryant.

Hickey, who had been disciplined on three occasions in the first two months of the season, has been LSU's best player in the first two SEC games. Hickey has scored 28 points, handed out eight assists and made seven steals. He has only one turnover.

Obviously, O'Bryant needs to return to full health. But, that may not happen right away. So, in this critical week for the LSU basketball season, Carmouche and Coleman are the guys who must step forward.


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