The cost of pulling the upset in game one of the Hawaii Tip-Off Classic was that LSU went to the winner’s bracket, full of really good teams. Instead of cruising past two tomato cans, LSU had to play legitimate tournament teams for the rest of the weekend.
Will Wade has this team playing better, but this Tiger team isn’t there yet. The Michigan win was a taste of what this team can be, but the winner’s bracket was a reminder that Will Wade inherited a program that had seriously flaws.
The biggest flaw is that this team can’t play a lick of defense. Every team shot over 50% from the field against LSU in Hawaii, and Marquette shot 57.8% last night. As Will Wade commented in the postgame press conference, "We confirmed that we can't guard anybody. That's the No. 1 thing we did."
Losing guard Brandon Sampson, perhaps the team’s best defensive player, certainly didn’t help. Marquette’s guards torched the LSU perimeter defense from three. Andrew Rowsey scored 24 points in the second half, 30 points overall and his backcourt mate, Sam Hauser scored 18 of his points in the first half. There always seemed to be one guy open. The twosome combined to go 9 of 13 from beyond the arc.
Outside of the defensive issues, LSU’s biggest problem is turning the ball over. LSU committed 17 turnovers to just 7 assists, which is not a sustainable ratio for winning basketball. Poor defense coupled with a lack of ball security is a recipe for a ten point loss.
Still, LSU kept this game close for most of the night. Marquette kept staking itself to doubl digit leads, only to have LSU claw back. Marquette did so twice in the first half, and again in the second. But late in the game, Marquette turned a 63-61 game into a 78-64 lead with a little over five minutes to play. There just wasn’t any time left to comeback.
The effort was there, but the team couldn’t overcome its own mistakes. You can’t keep giving a team like Marquette a big lead. Eventually, they will figure out how to hold it. However, it speaks to LSU’s mentality that the tigers kept crawling back into the game. They didn’t lay down.
I did save the good news for last. Sure, LSU had some issues, and they lost to a team that is likely better than they are. No shame in that, and the team needs to learn eventually how to beat the Marquettes of the world. But Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The good news is this: Tremont Waters is the truth. Waters scored 39 points, adding 4 assists and 5 steals, and pretty much single-handedly kept LSU in the game. He accounted for nearly half of the team’s points.
He successfully drove to the hoop, he drained three-pointers, and he found open space in the court where it seemed none existed. He showed that LSU will have a chance in every game this season, so long as Waters is on the court. He’s a playmaker.
LSU learned a lot about itself this weekend, but we learned the most important thing: we have our next star player.