Tennessee 68, LSU 50: A Rocky Start

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

The Volunteers battered and bruised the Tigers all night, starting SEC play off by shining a bright light on all of LSU's flaws for the rest of the league — and an ESPN audience — to see.

Where to even start with this one?

This was the type of loss that, if suffered by the baseball or football teams, would have the message boards and casual fans up in arms. As is, there'll be some minor mumblings and grumblings after a second straight listless performance marred LSU's conference opener.

Unlike the Rhode Island nailbiter, the Tigers couldn't even keep it close. And the problems that seemed to be trivial issues were only blown up to wide-screen proportion on national television against the Vols en route to an 0-1 start in SEC play.

Rebounding is becoming a major problem for this group, as Tennessee's 40-28 edge made it five of the last seven games that opponents have outrebounded LSU. This was different. In past games, effort seemed to be lacking, causing the lapses on the glass. Make no mistake, the Tigers were giving plenty of effort on the boards well into the second half.

They simply couldn't handle Jarnell Stokes. Granted, Stokes is among the SEC's elite big men, but he simply got every ball he wanted, including a whopping seven offensive rebounds out of 15 total. Along with another red-hot 3-point night for Tennessee - Jordan McRae is now 9-for-9 beyond the arc with 53 points in his last two games vs. LSU - the Tigers never had a chance once the rim closed up.

And that brings us to LSU's most glaring issue: half-court offense. Tennessee effectively slowed the game down by controlling the glass and being efficient enough avoiding turnovers. After that, it was a simple matter of length and athleticism bottling up the Tigers.

That's the hammer to the LSU offense's nail this year. Unless Anthony Hickey, Andre Stringer and Shavon Coleman produce better than their putrid 1-for-9 effort from deep, then the Tigers will continue to be very limited against disciplined, disruptive defenses. It simply puts too much pressure on Johnny O'Bryant III, who LSU still seems determined to have toss up off-balance looks and call it a post-oriented offense.

O'Bryant played an okay game, putting up 11 points and seven rebounds with just two turnovers. But LSU thought it had an elite power forward to run an offense through this year. Instead, JOB has been merely good, slightly better than solid. That distinction has put a burden on every other area of the offense.

Jordan Mickey is asked to handle the ball outside the paint. Jarell Martin doesn't get the open mid-range jumpers he needs to thrive. Stringer and Hickey find the perimeter to be a little more crowded. That's before we even mention Tim Quarterman's ugly shooting form, John Odo's black hole of an offensive game and Malik Morgan's usual inability to create his own shot.

Mostly, the Tigers look lost and lethargic when they position in a true half-court set. When the shots are falling, that's not a dealbreaker. When the shots are clanging, Tuesday night's display will be the result more often than not, unless Johnny Jones drastically overhauls either the sets or the spacing. Hell, Trent Johnson's LSU teams rarely looked that inept on offense.

Another troubling aspect of the blowout is the effect it could have on home crowds for the remainder of the season. Even if LSU quickly turns things around from this two-game skid, Tennessee was already the second or third best league game the Tigers had in the PMAC. With LSU needing to nab at least 13 SEC wins to even think about an NCAA at-large, an unenthusiastic crowd for must-wins like Arkansas and Missouri could cripple the momentum Jones has built through 1.5 seasons at the helm.

For now, a road tilt at South Carolina awaits on Saturday. It's a classic get-right game for LSU (though the Gamecocks have won five of six). But the Tigers have taken any leeway they had as far as postseason aspirations go and set it on fire. That blaze may not resonate far and wide through LSU's fanbase like, say, the Ole Miss football loss did. But the Tennessee loss - and the way it went down - could ultimately be as damaging to the Tigers morale, if not their resume.


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