This team has all the requisite talent and athleticism to make a run for an SEC title. After a couple bumps in the road early, the Tigers should be able to round into form as they approach SEC play. Hopefully. With a little built in break for final’s (STUDENT-athlete’s, the "student" comes first!) let’s give out some grades for what we’ve seen so far.
Guards – C+
The big issue here has been open shots not being made (the group is shooting 41.5% from the field so far.) They've done a great job on drives when they actually execute them, but too often have been willing to settle for ill advised pull-ups (looking at you, ‘Tone) and don't necessarily attack as much as I'd like (Coach Jones has mentioned that he'd like to see these guys get to the line more than they have). The shot selection over-all has not been great (Blakeney, especially, has taken some horrendous shots,) but, again, the real concern going forward is 3-point shooting. Once #2 starts to get it going (after some inconsistency early on), the others will feed off his energy and shot-making ability. It's just a matter of when.
Quarterman has been coming on strong after a slow start the first couple of games, and his ability to create is essential to the team getting opportunities in the half court. While this is the position of great depth for this team, and on paper this a group of solid shooters, spot-up shooting has been in short-supply while Hornsby has been out. Patterson has been by-far there most consistent deep threat off the catch and shoot, while Brandon Sampson has exceeded my expectations for him coming in the season (he'll likely be relegated to the bench with KH coming back, but he should be continued to be featured prominently.) The defense from this group hasn't been at the level it needs to be. They gamble a lot, and they have to, as they need the steady supply of transition buckets to supplement the anemic half-court offense.They'll benefit greatly from Keith's return to the court (and starting line-up), but so far, they need to take and make more open shots (and based off the law of averages, they will. Blakeney, for example, is a quality shooter, and his .275 3 point percentage is both not reflective of his ability and destined to improve.)
Forwards – B-
The most un-even in terms of depth, this is pretty-much Simmons at a world-beater level and then a steep drop off to Epps and Bridgewater. 25 has been excellent (save that deer-in the headlights performance against NC State). In fact, one of the issues in the early-going, is that the rest of the team is still calibrating to his play-style (although, the real onus should fall on Coach Jones to teach these kids, and implement dummy action and off-ball movement to help him out). He needs to be a little more decisive in terms of scoring around the tin, and I'd love to see them go away from the lacrosse-style "take-it out to half court, dribble 6-9 times, and then go full-steam ahead, head long towards the basket. They'll benefit greatly from Victor Craig's long-awaited debut, which will give the tigers another strong presence in the post on offense and more rebounding and rim-protection on defense (which is key, as the center's don't protect the rim.) Epps has given some quality energy minutes off the bench, which is crucial for the Tiger's as the season continues and they get into the meat of SEC play.
Centers - C
Obviously there isn't too much expected of this group, as Jones has gone to Simmons as the sole "big" on the floor early and often this year. ER3 has gotten the majority of the minutes, with small doses of Darcy Malone in the middle of halves. Despite there being a some questions about whether or not this was possible break-out year, the 7 foot 1 Robinson hasn't developed enough on offense to make a real impact (and has done a deplorable job of protecting the rim based on his frame alone). Darcy Malone's thin Australian frame gets bullied against real size, though he's a very capable passer and keeps the ball-moving more so than any other Tiger big. LSU is a team that will truly be best when they can play 2 forwards and 3 guards, and will get in trouble if they need to play the combination of Robinson and Malone for 30/35 minutes, or down the stretch, in certain games.
Coaching - D+
It's been awful. You have the best player in the country, and you've chained him in a mundane, predictable, and ineffective iso/high pick and roll heavy system. The offense has no flow, and there's very little (if not zero) off-ball action. Wayyy too much dribbling from the primary ball handlers. Multiple games where the team has come out not prepared to play and given up big leads early that they couldn't work their way out of (that's definitely a two-way street, but as the only one getting paid millions, let alone at all, the blame falls on you). Defensive effort varies from possession to possession, which is not acceptable for a team that has aspirations of making the tournament, and making some noise while they're there. There's something missing with this team right now. And it doesn't exactly seem like Jones is overly worried.
I'm not sure this is how I would be entering my locker room, given the situation; beating UNF (while giving up over 100 points in regulation) to get back to .500 after six games (when you have the near-undisputed top selection in next year's draft) is not impressive, it's expected.
You have to think that given the schedule, Jones and co. were hoping to be at least 5-2, if not 6-1, after these first seven games. 4-3 (with one loss, Charleston, against a team outside the KenPom top 150) cannot be viewed as anything else but a failure to launch. The offense in the half-court can be painful to watch, and it's compounded by sub-par shooting across the board to start the year (the Tigers are .657 from the line and .320 from three so far),
Too much talent, athleticism, and depth to drop that game in Charleston. That's a REAL blemish on the resume. There is time to turn it around, and I'm confident that Hornsby and the addition of Craig Victor will give this team a little more oomph, and a lot more leadership. I'd like to see them come out with some impressive performances against Houston and Gardner-Webb once play resumes post-finals. So far, it's been underwhelming, and a little concerning for a team that some talked about as having a chance to supplant Kentucky as the cream of the SEC crop.