Busting Brackets

Cam Thomas to lead LSU Basketball over Osun Osunniyi and St. Bonaventure

Mar 6, 2021; Columbia, Missouri, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Will Wade talks with players in a huddle during the first half against the Missouri Tigers at Mizzou Arena. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 6, 2021; Columbia, Missouri, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Will Wade talks with players in a huddle during the first half against the Missouri Tigers at Mizzou Arena. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports /
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LSU Basketball Cameron Thomas Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
LSU Basketball Cameron Thomas Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports /

1. Defending at a high level

There’s no denying that LSU struggles to defend at a high-level night in and night out, and their 75.3 points allowed per game (which ranks 280th in the country according to NCAA.com) proves that. The Tigers did show signs of being a competent defensive team this season, but there were too many times when they surrendered 75 or more points to their opponents in SEC play. When the Tigers held Texas A&M to just 54 points in their SEC opener, I was optimistic that Will Wade’s bunch would only ramp up their defensive intensity as the season progressed.

Unfortunately, the Tigers lost their way on that end of the floor as time went on which resulted in an 11-6 SEC record (which is proof that their lack of effort on the defensive end caused them to underachieve this season).

Alabama shot the lights out of the ball when they visited the Tigers on January 19th, and I’m not sure that LSU could have done much to prevent that from happening (which is why I am giving them a pass for their 105-75 defeat at the hands of the Crimson Tide), but throughout the regular season, there were three issues that the Tigers failed to clean up.

Number one, the Tigers had trouble consistently keeping their opponents in front of them out on the perimeter. The worst part about this issue is that LSU would rarely make their opponents blow past them by utilizing hypnotizing dribble combinations. In other words, you couldn’t really give LSU’s opponents too much credit for getting to the rim at will, because they weren’t forced to expend a bunch of energy completing double/change of pace crossovers.

As soon as they witnessed an LSU defender rise up out of their stance and drop their hands to their side, they knew that they could get to their spots by simply accelerating to their left or right side (which shouldn’t have been the case). St. Bonaventure’s Kyle Lofton and Jaren Holmes would love to keep things simple offensively on Saturday, which is why the Tigers must force them to execute multiple side-to-side moves and then live with the results that follow.

Number two, the Tigers didn’t do a good job of helping the helper in the regular season. What does that mean exactly? Well, for instance, if Javonte Smart allowed his man to get a step or two on him rather quickly and received immediate help from Darius Days, Smart wouldn’t sprint/rotate down to the right block and take Days’ assignment.

The teams that will ultimately advance in the NCAA Tournament will do a sound job of assisting each other when needed, and being as active as they possibly can be on the defensive end. In case you didn’t know, the Tigers were able to go on timely runs against their opponents in the SEC Tournament, because of their ability to remain engaged during consecutive defensive possessions.

By helping the helper in the SEC Tournament, the Tigers often found themselves in tremendous position to steal/deflect drop-off passes to the bigs down low, which allowed them to get out and run. Guys like Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford, and Cameron Thomas are better players when they can get ahead of their opponents, and bring out the various moves that will help them score with ease. Watford is elite when he can attack his defenders while they are on their heels, and get straight into his left to right euro step. His patient first step causes undisciplined defenders to leave their feet prematurely, which then gives Watford a chance to take one powerful step around them and finish at the rim.

Thomas is excellent when he can control his momentum and pull up around the free throw line area, or get around his defenders by utilizing his violent lefty in-and-out crossover, before getting into the chest of his initial defender or the secondary defender at the rim. Smart is extremely effective when he can transition the ball from his left hand to his right hand on the left side of the floor, and either maneuver his way around the closest defender and convert a layup or put up a soft floater if the defender is set on retreating.

Hopefully against St. Bonaventure, the Tigers are able to help the helper, force turnovers, get out in transition, and activate all of the different moves that will make them tougher for the Bonnies to guard.

And finally, the Tigers must finish their defensive possessions against the Bonnies by boxing out and elevating at their highest points for defensive rebounds. I think that LSU’s perimeter defense was pretty solid against Alabama in the SEC championship game, but the Crimson Tide’s 19 offensive rebounds killed the Tigers in the end.

St. Bonaventure is currently averaging 11.4 offensive rebounds per game (which ranks 64th in the country according to NCAA.com), and if the Tigers fail to put a body on the Bonnies as soon as shots go up, St. Bonaventure could easily pull down 17-19 offensive rebounds which could plague the Tigers on Saturday.

LSU can defend at a high level for 29 seconds all they want, but their refusal to end defensive possessions the right way could lead to their downfall against St. Bonaventure. Additionally, tipping the ball around momentarily if they do box out on a regular basis, and giving the Bonnies countless chances to come down with crucial offensive rebounds won’t get the job done either (which is why attacking the ball with two hands and keeping it out of the Bonnies’ reach needs to be a priority for the Tigers).