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LSU Basketball

Two missing parts for Will Wade’s LSU team

December 14, 2018

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LSU has been very close in a couple of meetings with nationally-ranked teams this season.

First, the Tigers could not hold on to a nine-point advantage in the final three minutes against No. 10 Florida State. The Seminoles got the game into overtime and beat LSU on a basket at the buzzer in the semifinals of the AdvoCare Invitational Tournament in Orlando last month.

Second, the Tigers could not protect a 15-point second-half lead at No. 24 Houston two nights ago. The Cougars came back to go on top and then held off LSU down the stretch.

So, the Tigers have a 7-3 record as they face St. Mary’s at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday (10 p.m. Central/ESPNU). LSU has no eye-catching victory because of its inability to close out the games against Florida State and Houston.

As a result, the Tigers are in the process of putting themselves behind the eight-ball as regards their NCAA tournament chances before Christmas. LSU desperately needs a victory against the Gaels (7-4), who were a NIT team a season ago.

Coach Will Wade’s team is on the edge of delivering one of those break-through victories. The Tigers just have not finished the deal when they have had the opportunity.

In these two defeats, one can identify two absent pieces – a lack of experience and a lack of a go-to guy. Those two missing parts are somewhat connected.

Ask Kentucky coach John Calipari how difficult it is to get freshmen adjusted to big-time college basketball. Calipari brings in some of the top freshmen in the country each year. But, the results have not been overwhelming – a SEC title every other season and only one national championship.

Calipari’s best seasons have occurred when the Wildcats have some returning players on the roster to go with their super-star freshmen. First-year players, who dominated the competition in high school, must realize that talent alone will not do the job in college.

LSU’s nine-man rotation includes four freshmen – Naz Reid, Ja’vonte Smart, Emmitt Williams and Darius Days. Those four players have good numbers through ten games. All four are averaging between seven and 12 points per game. All four are shooting at least 46 percent from the field.

The three post players – Reid, Williams and Days – are averaging a combined 27.5 points and 17.0 rebounds per game. Williams has a 61 percent field goal percentage, while Days and Reid are right around the 50 percent mark. Days is at 51 percent and Reid is at 49 percent.

However, the freshmen are not making the game-deciding plays down the stretch. Smart had 16 points when the Tigers built a 50-35 lead against Houston one minute in the second half. Over the next 19 minutes, Smart connected on one shot.

There is no substitute for experience.

Houston junior wing Armoni Brooks did not score in the first half against LSU. Brooks responded with 13 points in the second half just when his team needed them. Brooks scored seven straight points as the Cougars reduced a 13-point deficit to seven points.

In the final minutes, Houston enjoyed a 66-64 lead and Brooks knocked down a 3-pointer. Then, with the Cougars on top 73-72, Brooks sank another 3-pointer. Brooks played like a veteran. In addition, Houston’s best overall performer was senior Galen Robinson who had 18 points and six assists.

Skylar Mays is the only player on LSU’s roster who has been in the program for three seasons. It may not be coincidental that Mays has been the Tigers’ most consistent performer with an average of 13 points and four rebounds per game. Mays is shooting 50 percent from the field.

LSU is lacking that one go-to guy down the stretch. The individual who filled that role last season was freshman point guard Tremont Waters. Ten games into his sophomore campaign, Waters is struggling.

Waters’ scoring average is down about five points per game. His 3-point shooting percentage has fallen from 35 percent to 27 percent. Last season, Waters had more than twice as many assists as turnovers. So far this season, Waters almost has as many turnovers as assists.

It is very difficult for a freshman to be the lead guy. Even Ben Simmons was not particularly comfortable with that responsibility. Mays is more of a grinder. For that reason, Wade must do everything possible to get Waters back on track. LSU cannot afford for Waters to be the poster boy for ‘a sophomore slump.’

LSU Tigers Cutter & Buck Endurance Long Sleeve Half-Zip Pullover Jacket - Purple
LSU Tigers Cutter & Buck Endurance Long Sleeve Half-Zip Pullover Jacket - Purple

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