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March 25, 2014

Commitment to defense needed

The LSU basketball season came to a conclusion in Dallas on Monday night in a game which was typical of the year.

The Tigers played fairly well on offense although it went through one or two stretches in which it failed to score many points. But, the problem was on the defensive end of the court. SMU made 57 percent of its field goal attempts, including 64 percent of its 3-pointers.

The Mustangs were just another team to have a field night knocking down long range shots against LSU. Thanks to a 45-point second half, SMU coasted to an 80-67 second-round NIT victory against the Tigers.

For the ninth time this season, LSU allowed its opponent to make at least nine shots from behind the 3-point line. As one would expect, the Tigers lost six of those nine games. LSU's inability to consistently defend, primarily on the perimeter, was the reason the year ended in the NIT and not the Big Dance.

The Tigers permitted their opponents to make 36 percent of their 3-point shots. One season earlier, the opposition made just 32 percent of its treys. That difference in 3-point defense was the main reason the opposition averaged 71 points per game, slightly higher than the points allowed in 2013.

Field goal percentage was the barometer for LSU this season. The Tigers had a 20-14 record. The team with the higher field goal percentage had a 32-2 record in LSU games. The two losers were LSU against Memphis and South Carolina against LSU.

When the Tigers defended, they usually won. In 19 games, LSU held its opponent to 43 percent field goal shooting or less, it had a 17-2 record. To use a Les Miles line, the Tigers were undefeated in regulation in these games. The two defeats came in overtime - against Ole Miss and Kentucky.

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This entire LSU season revolved around poor defense. The Tigers gave up 75 points in 13 games. LSU's record in those games was 3-10. That means the Tigers were 17-4 in the other games. So, repeating the point, the Tigers had a good chance of winning when they performed on the defensive end of the court.

When Johnny Jones was hired as head coach, many fans were hoping he would return LSU basketball to the success of the era of his mentor - Dale Brown. Jones has had two decent campaigns - 39-26 overall and 18-18 in the Southeastern Conference.

As previously mentioned, the Tigers gave up at least 75 points in 13 of their 34 games. Therefore, the opponent reached the 75-point mark in 38 percent of the games. The last time LSU opponents hit 75 points in more than 38 percent of the games was 1997, which happened to be Brown's final season.

In 1997, Tigers opponents scored at least 75 points in 43 percent of the games. That LSU team finished with a 10-20 record. In Jones' first season as coach, the Tigers allowed teams to score at least 75 points in 32 percent of the games (10-of-31).

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When was the last time LSU permitted the opposition to score at least 75 points in more than 30 percent of the games in back-to-back seasons? The answer is 1996-97 when the coach was Brown. In 1996, the opposition reached the 75-point mark in 55 percent of the games (16-of-29).

Brown's teams were never thought of as great defensive teams. LSU always had a lot of great talent which Brown permitted to flourish on the offensive end of the court. The commitment to defense was a year-to-year proposition for Brown's squads depending upon the makeup of the roster.

Now, most people felt this LSU team had a good opportunity to make the NCAA tournament. Picked to finish fourth or fifth in the SEC, the Tigers ended up in a sixth-place tie with Ole Miss and Missouri. Such a final standing is not good enough for a NCAA tournament bid.

LSU certainly had talent. As more than one television analyst pointed out, the Tigers had three NBA-type players inside (Johnny O'Bryant, Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin) and two veteran guards (Andre Stringer and Anthony Hickey). Throw in Shavon Coleman to form a solid top six players.

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Unfortunately, this six-player core was not defensive-oriented. The two best defenders were one-dimensional. Mickey blocked shots (106), while Hickey made steals (62). But, no one played good on-base defense with the possible exception of Coleman.

O'Bryant committed at least four fouls in 15 of the 34 games. Both Martin and Mickey appeared to be lost in defensive rotations on more than one occasion. Stringer and Hickey were in height disadvantages against taller guards. There was no lockdown defensive player on this team like a Garrett Temple.

Moreover, there was no commitment to defense by this skilled Tigers team. The coaching staff must be held accountable for this problem. Nearly a half-dozen times throughout the year, Jones talked about a lack of toughness on the defensive end of the floor.

The lack of defensive passion led to some inefficient offense. LSU would fall behind, so it would push the tempo in an attempt to get back into the game. The result was an abundance of poor shots and a somewhat helter-skelter style.

For LSU to escape the .500 mediocrity in SEC games of Jones' first two seasons, an improvement on defense must surface. But, no progress will be made until there is a desire by the players to become good on defense. That teaching/motivation must come from Jones and his staff.

Jones has been a win-one, lose-one type of coach in his 13 years - 11 at North Texas and two at LSU. His career record in conference games is 109-108. Jones must evaluate his staff to see if changes there would help the Tigers perform better defensively.

But, a look ahead in the LSU basketball program will come another day after it is known the makeup of the 2015 roster. For now, it is obvious that a lack of commitment on defense resulted in the 2014 Tigers team having to settle for a NIT bid and a second-round loss.


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