To help preview Northwestern's game this afternoon, I talked with actioncuse of the excellent SB Nation LSU blog And The Valley Shook, who was kind enough to take a break from football and answer my questions. I also asked him some questions, which should appear on their blog soon if it's not already.
SoP: It doesn't seem too long ago LSU was in the Final Four with Big Baby Davis and Tyrus Thomas, but they've fallen to the SEC basement the past two years. Is there reason for optimism this year and is Trent Johnson the man to turn it around?
And The Valley Shook: It really isn't that long ago that LSU was relevant. The 2006 Final Four was the peak of the basketball success, but even as recently as 2009 LSU won the SEC regular season title. They fell to the UNC Tarheels in the 2nd round to cut their season short, but it was still a great season. That 2009 season was Trent Johnson's first year at LSU, and it looked like a really good move at the time. Now, after two seasons at or near the bottom of the SEC, it's time for a turning point, one way or another. I think there is hope for an NIT bid, but after losing to Coastal Carolina on Tuesday, I'm not sure what to expect. I think the bare minimum has to be a .500 record in SEC play, though.
SoP: A cursory glance of KenPom.com indicates that LSU has really had a tough time offensively the past two years. I know it's early, but have there been encouraging signs on offense this year or has it been more of the same?
And The Valley Shook: If you asked me before Tuesday, I would have said that it look like the offense got figured out. LSU got the ball to the forwards and centers, who were able to score it themselves. Justin Hamilton was a nice addition from Iowa State at the center position. Later in the game, the forwards started to pass it out to open shooters, and the shooters were all able to hit their 3 pointers. I didn't get to see the CCU game, but it looks like the old LSU offense is back. Andre Stringer was the player I was most critical of before the season. He takes way too many deep 3 pointers and ill advised shots. A 3-11 performance against CCU scares me, because it shows that maybe he hasn't learned anything about being a point guard and getting the ball inside.
SoP: Freshman big man Johnny O'Bryant has gotten a lot of buzz as an impact newcomer. Has he lived up to the hype so far and what should we expect from him Thursday?
And The Valley Shook: Johnny O'Bryant definitely lived up to the hype in the first game. He came in off the bench about 3 minutes into the game, and immediately scored on his first four trips down the floor. During that same stretch of about 5 minutes, he also blocked two shots and had a couple of rebounds. He really looked. A box score glance against CCU shows that he got into some foul trouble against the Chanticleers. Even so, he scored in double figures again. I would expect "JOB" to come off the bench. It will be a much better test for him to go against a Big 10 school as opposed to the smaller schools we have played so far. I'm thinking he holds his own and has a modest 8 point 6 rebound game.
SoP: Northwestern plays an unconventional brand of basketball: they run a Princeton offense and on defense they use lots of different looks including a match-up zone and an extended 1-3-1 half court trap. How do you see LSU faring against that kind of style? Is it something they've seen before?
And The Valley Shook: I think the Princeton offense will be effective against LSU. Trent Johnson has already begun to stress defense to this team after Nicholls State shot nearly 50% from 3 in the first game. Northwestern will have much better shooters and if LSU gives up the same shots they did before, the Wildcats won't have any problems with LSU. I don't think the unconventional defenses will bother LSU any more than a regular defense does. LSU has the most difficulty with full court pressing teams, and that is what I would run against the Tigers if I was an opposing coach.
SoP: Any prediction for the game?
And The Valley Shook: I predicted before the season that LSU would fall to the Wildcats, and and I don't see any reason to revise that pick. I think the firepower from Shurna and Crawford will put us in a hole that we cannot get out of. Once that happens LSU usually panics and forces bad shots. 77-67 Wildcats.