LSU Basketball: Not ready for prime time…yet


LSU basketball is not ready for prime time. Not just yet anyway. Coach Johnny Jones is doing a fantastic job as a recruiter (exemplified by recent commits from high school superstars Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney), but this current group is a young team that must learn how to close out games. The talent and potential for a winning, successful program are there, but the Tigers are not quite ready to take the next step.

More from LSU Basketball

So far on the year, LSU is 13-4, 2-2. Some of the wins have been downright impressive, including back-to-back December victories against UMass of the A-10 Conference, and a huge upset over a ranked West Virginia team on the road.

The SEC has been another story. I’m not ready to throw in the towel on what is thus far a 2-2 conference record; however, other than a nice road win at Ole Miss, and a hard-fought, “gut it out” type win against Georgia, the Tigers performance on SEC contests has been uneven at best.

It won’t get any easier, as Florida is next up on the schedule this Tuesday (the first of two matchups with the Gators this year), there is still a game to played at Arkansas, and of course, the Kentucky game on February 10th is looming.

Thus far this year: there’s a bad overtime loss to Mizzou on January 8th, a game that the Tigers should have won, a choppy double-overtime win against Georgia at the PMAC last Saturday, the aforementioned win at Ole Miss, and then yesterday, a downright terrible loss at home to Texas A&M. The loss to the Aggies is particularly worrisome, as the Tigers blew a 13-point second half lead.

Quite simply, LSU needs better play from their two big men in SEC play. So far, Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey have not performed up to their non-conference levels, and it is imperative they improve their games. In particular, Martin has struggled on the offensive side moreso than Mickey.

A quick comparison:

  • Martin – Season averages: Overall – 16.6 points per game; SEC – 11.5 points per game
  • Mickey – Season averages: Overall – 15.6 points per game; SEC – 13.5 points per game

These are stats that must improve if the Tigers are to qualify for an NCAA tournament berth this year. Currently, one would have to consider them a bubble team at best.

On the positive side of things, players such as Tim Quarterman and Keith Hornsby are stepping up their games in conference. A look at their stats:

  • Quarterman – Season averages: Overall – 11.9 points per game; SEC – 14.5 points per game
  • Hornsby – Season averages: Overall – 12.4 points per game; SEC – 12.8 points per game

Here’s a look at LSU’s season stats, courtesy of

It can be argued that play from Quarterman and Hornsby in SEC games has made up for the uneven play from Martin and Mickey. Fortunately, this has allowed the Tigers to split their first four SEC contests. Freshman Jalyn Patterson and transfer Josh Gray have played well in conference, but can’t be looked at as players that can carry the team.

Jones lamented the Tigers’ issues following yesterday’s gut-wrenching loss to Texas A&M:

"“We should be flashing hard and getting the ball inside and being patient. We settled a little bit too much, and it wasn’t so much their zone, but unfortunately we took some shots we didn’t need to take. It’s about being patient, getting into the clock and making extra passes.”"

His post game assessment describes a young team that has to learn how to close out games.

Patterson added the following:

"“Coach always preaches at us to be tough-minded and focused, and we didn’t play like that in the second half. We were taking bad shots and weren’t using the clock to our advantage. We were out there playing like we were still down…We’ve got to stay mentally locked in and play the whole game like we played that first half. We didn’t do that. We didn’t do what our coaching taught us to do.”"

The question now – can the Tigers learn from this loss? If so, they will make strides toward being ready for prime time. If not, it may be the second straight season in the NIT.