LSU finally broke into the top 25 this week at No. 22 and No. 24 in the AP and Coaches men’s basketball polls respectively.
The voters obviously looked at LSU’s SEC-leading 6-0 record and decided the Tigers belonged.
But the voters probably didn’t investigate the fact that LSU has won its last six games by a combined 15 points, blowing double-digit second half leads several times to turn what should be comfortable victories into possession-by-possession nail biters.
Which is why LSU coach Will Wade, with the 15-4 Tigers set to host Alabama (12-7, 4-2 in the SEC) Wednesday night at 6 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, knows his team’s top 25 ranking and eight-game winning streak are phony baloney.
“We are fooling ourselves,” Wade said. “I know everybody wants to sit over here and pat ourselves on the back for being ranked and 15-4, but it’s not going to work.
“It’s not going to work against Alabama. They will come in here and slap us around if we don’t get this stuff corrected. We better have people that have our sense of urgency to get all of this corrected.”
The reasons LSU builds healthy leads is simple.
It shares the ball offensively with good ball and player movement. Players take shots from their preferred spots on the floor where they are most effective. When shots are attempted, there are Tigers usually already in position for offensive rebounds.
Defensively because of great communication, LSU’s rotations are solid with perfect hedging off screens.
And the reasons why LSU loses leads?
All of that good stuff disappears in a haze of lost focus and fatigue. The offense stagnates, bad ball-handling decisions accelerate and the defense is late on rotating to open shooters.
Before you know it, it’s a five-minute fistfight until the final buzzer.
“We get tired, fatigued, and we make bad decisions,” Wade said. “When you make bad decisions, bad things happen. We have terrible possessions, and we do terrible things.
“We have to grow up. We’ve got to make the right play. We’ve got to make the simple play. We have to quit turning the ball over all the time. What we’re doing is not going to work if we’re going to compete at the top of the league and be a good team.
“I’m sick of it. I’ve been kind of nice about it with our team, but we’ve got to quit putting ourselves in these stupid situations. We’re not consistent enough, we don’t do what we’re supposed to do.”
Without mentioning names, Wade basically called out his starting backcourt of sophomore point guard Javonte Smart and senior Skylar Mays.
LSU is averaging 13.8 turnovers per game with Smart and Mays combining for 7 per game. Smart is averaging 11.7 points but has a dead even assist to turnover ratio of 4.6 to 4.6.
The Tigers have been winning through rebounding, especially on the offensive boards. LSU is outrebounding opponents 39.8 to 32.3 including 12.5 to 10.9 in offensive retrieves.
Alabama is the best team LSU will have faced so far. The Crimson Tide of first-year coach Nate Oats have won four consecutive games, five of the last six and 10 of the last 13 following a 77-74 win over Kansas State in Saturday’s Big 12/SEC win.
Led by guard Kira Lewis Jr., the SEC’s Co-Player of the Week, Alabama is ranked nationally in top 10 in four stat categories. Alabama is No. 5 in the nation in scoring offense at 82.8 points per game and is No. 6 in three-point field goals made per game at 10.4, leading the league in both areas. The Crimson Tide also leads the SEC in threes made (197), threes attempted (551) and three-point field goal percentage (.358).
“Alabama is an elite offensive team, elite speed at the guard position with Lewis and (John) Petty who’s the best shooter (48 percent from 3-point range) in the league,” Wade said. “They have four of the top 30 shooters in the league. They’re a matchup problem for us.”
“It will be a big challenge for us defensively being able to stop them, contest threes, keep them out of transition. We’re going to have to do a good job offensively, run a good offense to complement our defense so we’re not playing defense the entire game and on our heels.”