Every tournament game is a weighted coin flip. The beauty of the bracket is that it can be harsh and unfair – unlike the NBA in which the best team will usually win a playoff series, one bad night means you go home in college.
That’s the beauty and allure of the event, but its also what makes it hard to predict. Is LSU going to win I the first round? Well, it depends on what LSU team shows up.
I’m a huge fan of the KenPom ratings and the Four Factors. LSU has a Jekyll and Hyde profile: the Tigers are one of the best offensive teams in the nation, but also rank 125th in defensive efficiency which is…. well, it’s not good.
Specifically, LSU is terrible at allowing offensive rebounds (325th). This leads right into teams shooting 51.3% against LSU (240th). The good news for LSU is that it actually has a pretty good three-point defense at 30.0% (20th).
But really, LSU covers for its defensive deficiencies by going fast. I don’t want to make it seem like LSU is the second coming of Paul Westphal or anything, but LSU pushes the pace in order to maximize possessions. Eventually, the Tigers will outscore you.
So how do the Bonnies profile against these specific weaknesses of LSU? Pretty damn well, I’m sorry to say.
St. Bonaventure has a pretty good offense, though its not as explosive as LSU’s. On the other hand, they rank 16th in the nation in defensive efficiency. They can shut you down, specifically in forcing bad shots for and Effective FG% allowed of 45.5% (13th). This is a defense which can give LSU fits, particularly if Cameron Thomas decides to start chucking up bad shots.
Worse is how the Bonnies play on offense. What’s the Four Factor at which they most excel? If you said offensive rebounding (31st), a gold star for you. They match u perfectly on offense with LSU’s biggest defensive weakness.
The Bonnies also will try to dictate the pace – and they want to go slow. If they can clog the court and slow down the LSU offense or simply prevent the Tigers from pushing the pace, it can become a frustrating slog, and frustration leads to mistakes.
That said, LSU has lost to just three teams since the calendar flipped to February: Alabama (twice), Arkansas (who LSU also beat), and Georgia. It’s instructive to look at what an LSU looks like. I’m going to skip Alabama because the profile is to be awesome and have an All-American player like Herbert Jones. Maybe that helps Michigan, but not St. Bonaventure.
LSU inexplicably lost by 13 to Georgia, but when you look at the box score, nothing really jumps out. The teams were almost even in every stat. The difference overall was Cameron Thomas shot 7 of 19 from the floor while Toumani Camara shot 9 of 10 from inside the arc for Georgia. OH, and Sahvir Wheeler added his first career triple double.
Still, in the final box, the only major difference is that with 5:46 left in the first half, the game was 24-23 UGA. LSU wouldn’t hit another basket until 43 seconds left in the half, a three pointer to cut the lead to 40-27. So, basically, don’t give up a 16-1 run and you’ll be good.
Georgia does get a ton of boards, and they pulled down 16 in that game, helping key the offense. So LSU’s weakness popped up. But what is interesting is that Georgia plays fast, too. They leaned into LSU’s pace, scoring 91 points. I’m not sure the Bonnies can do that.
Arkansas is interesting because we can contrast the win with the loss. What’s the difference? Again, Arkansas pushes the pace, even more than LSU, clean up the boards well, and are elite defensively.
In the Arkansas win, things were weird. LSU outrebounded the Hogs. Thomas went 10-14 from two, pouring in the points, while Moses Moody went 2-9 for Arkansas. The key to the win? Arkansas got to the line. A lot. The Hogs shot 31 free throws to LSU’s 12. They would win by 8 (though they did have a near 20-point lead).
In the rematch at the SEC Tournament, Thomas struggled from the field (2-12 from two) and Arkansas actually shot lights out from inside the arc. They simply didn’t get to the line as much, and when they did, they missed (11-19). LSU held Arkansas to 6-26 from three, while going 9-19 beyond the arc themselves.
It seems the key was getting to the free throw line, and that’s not really the Bonnies game. They don’t attack the rim with a fury like Arkansas. So there’s little chance they will steal from that playbook. Now is not the time to change who you are.
The answer for the Bonnies may lie in the Ole Miss game. The Rebels have a worse offense, but also play elite defense (21st). They grab a ton of offensive boards (19th) and play at a glacial pace (322nd). The problem for the Rebs is they are an abysmal shooting team.
However, Ole Miss gave LSU a tough game in Nashville by outrebounding the Tigers and keeping LSU’s offense somewhat in check. LSU won by three (which wasn’t quite that close), but here’s the rub: St. Bonaventure profiles the same as Ole Miss, only they will bury those open looks. Ole Miss shot 20 of 45 from inside the arc, which is below the national average.
If the Bonnies play like Ole Miss, but convert those looks, LSU won’t get to stay very long at this dance. Styles make games, and the contrast of styles here should make this a terrific first round game. Don’t take St. Bonaventure lightly. They can play, and worse yet, they match up almost perfectly with LSU’s biggest weaknesses.