What to make of the LSU men’s basketball team after Wednesday’s 62-55 victory over Ole Miss?
This a team in search of an offensive identity.
This a team that plays defense.
This a team that is a shadow of last year’s Final Four participants and Southeastern Conference champions.
This is a team that leads the SEC West — virtually by default, it’s true — but still leads it going into Saturday’s game at Arkansas.
This is a team that should hang “under construction” signs on the Maravich Center doors and offer hard hats to the first 5,000 fans who come through.
This is a team that could be quite dangerous if it ever finds its rhythm.
It is still early to pass judgment on this LSU team, especially after it plays Ole Miss. Every game with the Rebels is about as comfortable to watch as a tooth extraction. Last year, LSU gutted out a 79-73 win in Oxford and ended the regular season with a narrow 55-52 victory at home over the Rebels, part of the Tigers’ remarkable ongoing 19-game SEC home game winning streak.
“We didn’t have a seven-point win last year (over Ole Miss) with a team that I think is a little better than this one,” LSU coach John Brady said.
It’s almost always ugly and sloppy with Ole Miss. Wednesday night’s game was merely a continuation of LSU’s 23-20 overtime football victory over the Rebels across the street from the PMAC back in November.
Things turned out just fine for that LSU squad, which went on the road to beat Arkansas and Notre Dame to finish No. 3 in the country. And the same could be true for this LSU team, if it continues to play defense as it has lately.
The Tigers have won, rather quietly, seven of their last eight games. Only once, in the 71-61 loss at Alabama, has LSU allowed more than 63 points. Five times in the winning streak — albeit against teams like Wright State and Samford — the Tigers have held the opposition to 55 points or less.
“Our saving grace right now is our defense,” Brady said. “Fifty-five points, I’ll take that every time out.”
The critical issue for LSU is to score more points than the opposition. The Tigers didn’t crack the 55-point barrier until the game’s final three minutes.
“It shows where we are that we’re not playing well but we’re still winning,” said Garrett Temple, who scored on three free throws and was 0-for-3 from the field.
“We need to play better, execute better, score at a more efficient rate.”
The critical question is: Can the Tigers do that? Saturday’s game at Arkansas, where LSU began its march to the SEC title last season with a confidence-building 63-58 win, will be quite the test.
“We have to be on point with everything we do,” said Glen Davis, who was hounded into just 4 of 9 shooting by Ole Miss’ double teams. “We have to execute in a hostile environment.”
Sometimes that’s an environment the Tigers create for themselves.