LSU came up short in the second round of the NIT, losing 80-67 at SMU on Monday night. They had the half-time lead, but in the second half, SMU turned up the defensive pressure and rode an absolutely packed home crowd at Moody Coliseum for the win. That place was bumping last night - not many teams in the country were going to come out of there with a W.
Nevertheless, I came away very impressed with the talent on the LSU roster and I think they have a chance to be one of the best teams in the country next season. When you look at how the three SEC teams in the NCAA Tourney have done - Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee - you have to question whether the conference was underrated this season.
LSU had the horses to run with those three teams in a way that not a lot of teams around the country do, as the Tourney has proved. The best news for LSU fans? Most of those horses are coming back next season. Barring an unexpected departure for the NBA, LSU should be a preseason Top 25 team. Johnny Jones has this program going in the right direction.
They are losing two seniors - SF Shavon Coleman and SG Andre Stringer - but everyone else is coming back. Let's take a look at their roster for next season.
PG - Andre Hickey (5'11 180) - Doesn't have a lot of size, but is a solid shooter and decision-maker. One of the keys for them next season will be bringing in a bigger guard who can ease some of the ball-handling and decision-making responsibilities for Hickey. Their big men are so good they just need guards who can take care of the ball and control tempo.
SF - Jarrell Martin (6'9 240) - One of the most underrated players in the country. Martin has the tools to be up there with the other great freshmen - he can shoot 3's, put the ball on the floor and play above the rim. His skill-set on a guy with his combination of size and athleticism is preposterous. He's probably best as a small-ball 4, but he can survive as a 3, allowing their other two big men to shine down low.
PF - Jordan Mickey (6'8 220) - The Dallas product is a shot-blocking wonder, getting 3.1 blocks as a game as a 6'8 freshman. He's crazy athletic, he's very strong and his offensive game is coming around nicely. He can play out of the high post and the low post - watch out for this guy on NBA draft boards next season.
C - Johnny O'Bryant III (6'9 255) - A grown man down-low. Not many college big men have the strength to wrestle with JOB and he's got a surprisingly soft touch. The problem is he's a bit of a bull in a china shop and once the ball goes inside, it's not coming out. The question is whether he wants to pile up big stats next season to boost his NBA stock or whether he will be willing to share the ball with Mickey and Martin.
SG - Tim Quarterman (6'6 175) - I think this guy is the key for LSU to make a run at an SEC title. He has great size and ball-handling ability and he can see the floor - he would be a good complement to Hickey in the back-court. The question is whether he can develop a jumper this season - LSU's big men need guards who can space the floor and play inside-out.
If I was trying to beat LSU, I would follow the game-plan Larry Brown used on Monday - press their guards, get the game going up-and-down and pack the paint. You don't want their big men to beat you; they've got three 6'8+ players with a chance to play at the next level.
LSU reminds me a lot of Tennessee, another SEC program that was hanging around the fringes of relevancy for a few seasons. The key for the Volunteers in March has been their guards ability to space the floor and take care of the ball, because very few teams around the country have the big men to bang with Maymon and Stokes.
The front-lines in the SEC - Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU, Arkansas, Ole Miss - are freaking massive. Over the last few years, it's been the guard play that has let the conference down. If LSU can improve their guard play next season, watch the hell out. There could be no stopping this team.