There’s a scene in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk where British soldiers attempt to plug holes in a bullet-riddled boat as water and bullets continue to rush in.
It’s a scene LSU’s basketball team can relate too, on a much safer and far less mortal scale.
After three poor defensive efforts that saw LSU give up an average of 88 points per game during a 1-2 stretch, the Tigers hammered down on defensive details before Wednesday’s clash with Florida, only to watch its offense go dry in a 73-64 defeat.
“Last week, we spent a lot of time on our defense,” said head coach Will Wade. “Our offense had been playing well. We plug one leak, then when we go to take on the next leak and try to plug that, the leak we just plugged the day before, the water starts coming back through.”
LSU (13-10, 4-7 SEC) returns to action on Saturday for a 3 p.m. tip with Ole Miss. The Rebels will ride into town on equally leaky transport, losers of their last four.
Wade said he’s concerned about Ole Miss’ size and physicality, and their ability to get to the line. He’s also concerned about his own team’s issues putting together a complete performance on both ends of the floor.
“We haven’t been able to get them both on the same page,” Wade said. “Our defense was a lot better. Then our offense, we were just all out of whack.”
Navigating the Waters
On offense, LSU will look to get freshman point guard Tremont Waters back on track. His splits have told the tale of LSU’s season: in 13 wins, he averages 16 points per game on 46 percent shooting from the floor and 43 percent from 3, plus 7.3 assists and 2.9 turnovers per game.
Tremont Waters Splits
Result, .FG%, 3P%, FT%, APG, Steals/gm, TO/gm, PPG
Total, .416, .353, .806, 5.8, 2.2, 3.2, 15.0,
Wins, .463, .425, .796, 7.3, 2.5, 2.9, 16.1
Losses, .357, .273, .818, 3.9, 1.8, 3.6, 13.6 [/table]
In 10 defeats, his numbers dip to 13.6 points, 3.9 assists, and 3.6 turnovers per game on 36 percent shooting from the floor and 27 percent from 3.
“From the day we said we were going to roll with Tremont, there’s going to be ups and downs,” Wade said. “There’s going to be good and bad. That’s what we’re dealing with. When you’re a small guard like that and you’re not hitting shots, he becomes a lot easier to guard, and we become a lot easier to guard.”
Wade’s Ideal Defense
LSU had success on the defensive end against Florida, particularly in the first half, holding the Gators to 31 points on 46 percent shooting. The Tigers focused on limiting the Gators from beyond the arc and allowed just six makes from 3.
The key was a switching defense that Wade likes but isn’t sure is sustainable for his team, as evidenced by Florida’s 42-point second half heavy on points in the paint.
(Warning: Basketball jargon approaching)
“I would prefer to switch 1 through 4 and hedge with the 5 every game,” Wade said. “That’s the best way to defend, in my opinion, because you don’t give up 3s to pick and pop 4s. Most teams aren’t looking for 5-men on the roll, so you can divert their offense. That, to me, is the ideal way to play defense.”
And why can’t LSU play that way all the time?
“However, we can’t switch 1 through 4 very much because you end up with Tremont on a 4-man,” Wade said. “There’s a lot of reasons we can’t do that. We felt like, against Florida, we could, because we wanted to take away all their 3-point shooting. Which we did a pretty good job of that. But you have to be able to take away the 3 and defend the drive. We just have no rim protection, so they just drove in on us. We can’t block anything, we don’t shield, the charge we took was late, late, late in the game. That’s where not having someone who can protect the rim hurts you, when you’re switching.”
LSU ranks 12th in the SEC in block percentage, swatting away just 9.5 percent of opponents’ attempts in league play. As a result, the SEC is shooting 54.9 percent from two against the Tigers, the worst defensive mark in the conference.
LSU, as NOLA.com’s Andrew Lopez noted during the press conference, is 6-0 when making 10 or more 3-pointers, while Ole Miss has given up that number in five of its last seven.
“I got a guy on my staff that swears if we shoot 30 3s a game we’d win every game,” Wade said. (LSU is 3-0 when it shoots 30 3s this season.) “Hopefully, we’ll make shots. Make shots, it’s a lot easier.”
Wade said Ole Miss makes life difficult on offenses by switching up its defenses. The Rebels play five or six different variations of man and zone, full, half and three-quarter court.
“They play multiple defenses in one possession,” Wade said. “That’s a challenge. You’ve got a freshman point guard that hasn’t seen all that sorta stuff. It takes a lot of the control out of your hands as the head coach, where we try to pick on stuff. Guys have to play a little more off their natural ability.”