When LSU won the Southeastern Conference four seasons ago, Marcus Thornton was the league's Player of the Year.
But, the key player on that Tigers championship team was Garrett Temple. No player had a bigger impact on both ends of the floor than Temple.
LSU has a similar player on its roster this season. Anthony Hickey is not going to average double-figure points, but don't ever doubt that he is the catalyst for this team.
Andre Stringer scored 19 points and Shavon Coleman registered a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds as the Tigers came away with a 66-60 road victory against Cal Irvine on Tuesday night.
However, LSU would not have defeated the Anteaters were it not for Hickey. Here's the evidence.
The Tigers and UC Irvine were tied at 17-17 with less than nine minutes remaining in the first half. Slightly more than 90 seconds later, LSU had a 27-17 lead. Hickey played a role in each of those ten points.
First, Hickey knocked down a 3-pointer. One possession later, a Hickey pass led to a 3-pointer by Stringer. Then, Hickey made a steal and drove for a layup. Hickey was fouled, but missed the free throw. Finally, Hickey made another steal and layup.
Hickey didn't score another point against the Anteaters, but he was a positive influence in his other 19 minutes. When the Tigers' lead fell to three points at 34-31 early in the second half, Hickey was summoned off the bench by coach Johnny Jones.
With Hickey on the court, LSU rebuilt its advantage to nine points at 45-36. With the Tigers' lead down to six points with about six minutes remaining in the game, Jones once again went with Hickey. LSU maintained that six-point spread the rest of the way.
For the night, Hickey had three rebounds, two assists and two steals to go with his ten points. He made four of his seven field goal attempts, including the two 3-pointers.
As a true freshman last season, Hickey showed that he was capable of running a team in the SEC. He made his share of mistakes, but he never backed down from taking the big shot.
So far this season, Hickey has put up some solid numbers - 9.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.7 steals per game. Hickey, who leads the SEC in steals, has committed 1.6 turnovers per game.
However, it has been a trying first six weeks of the season for Hickey. First, he was suspended from the exhibition game against Arkansas-Monticello for missing a class. As an additional penalty, Hickey didn't start the season opener against UC Santa Barbara.
When the Tigers faced Mississippi Valley State two weeks later, Hickey was again not in the starting lineup for being late for a team activity. Then, prior to last week's Chattanooga game, Hickey was indefinitely suspended.
This time, Hickey violated both athletic department and university policy. Following a meeting with athletic department officials, Hickey was allowed to travel with the team to Boise State and Cal Irvine.
Hickey didn't start in either game, but he did see playing time in both contests. There is no doubt that Jones is trying to get a point across to Hickey. Don't look for Hickey to be in the starting lineup when LSU visits Marquette on Saturday afternoon.
On Thursday, Jones stressed that Hickey's not starting is not a matter of discipline. Jones emphasized that Hickey must work his way back to a starting spot.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the manner in which Jones is handling Hickey's situation. It is certainly time for Hickey to maturely handle his responsibilities. He owes such an approach to his teammates and coaches.
Undoubtedly, Hickey must be on the court for LSU to perform as well as it can when the SEC schedule begins next month. But, it's more important that Hickey acts in the proper fashion - that is, follow rules.
Hickey and his teammates will face a tough challenge against Marquette. Like Boise State, Marquette lost to the Tigers at the PMAC last December. Boise State whipped LSU by 19 points last Saturday. Marquette will try to do the same this Saturday.
The Eagles, who are 7-3, lost earlier this week at Green Bay by two points. Marquette has been a much better team at home with five victories by an average of 19 points. The Eagles knocked off Wisconsin there by ten points.
Besides Green Bay, Butler and Florida have defeated Marquette. The Gators pounded the Eagles 82-49. Marquette has played one other SEC team - Mississippi State - and won by 27 points.
The Eagles take a different approach than LSU. Marquette starts a smaller lineup with 6-foot-6 Justin Anderson joining 6-11 Chris Otule in the post. Then, the Eagles go with a bigger lineup with their substitutes.
Davante Gardner, who is 6-8 and weighs 290 pounds, is averaging 12.1 points and 5.6 rebounds a game. Jamil Wilson, who is 6-7, is accounting for 9.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Marquette's top scorer is 6-4 wing Vander Blue, who is averaging 12.7 points per game. Starting point guard Junior Cadougan is providing 8.1 points and 4.7 assists per game.
After Saturday's game in Milwaukee, the Tigers will take a couple of days off for Christmas. LSU has two remaining non-conference games at the PMAC - Houston Baptist on Dec. 28 and Bethune-Cookman on Jan. 5.