I’ve been wanting to hold off on this for as long as possible because writing it makes the end of the 2020-2021 men’s basketball season feel irreversible.
But before we dive into the box, I just want to say it feels great having LSU play meaningful basketball this late into March. The program has had some pretty lean years over the last quarter century, but now it feels like LSU is approaching what it was when Dale Brown was at his peak.
Or maybe it already is. The Tigers have made the last two NCAA Tournaments and would have three straight appearances had there been a tournament last year. They’ve won more SEC games than anyone else over the last three seasons, won the regular season title in 2019, played in its first conference tournament championship game in 41 years and was an inch away from winning it. They’ve finished in the top-four of the conference in each of the last three seasons and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament is starting to feel like an expectation, not a pipe dream. It’s just nice having basketball matter again.
Anyway, for the last time this season, onto the review.
9: LSU’s biggest lead
The opening 10 minutes or so was a hell of a lot of fun for LSU but that right there should have been the warning sign. As well as LSU played they couldn’t build a lead that felt insurmountable. Being down nine 10 minutes into a basketball game is like being down 3-0 in football before your offense ever gets on the field. So what?
For LSU to have beaten Michigan either Cameron Thomas would have had to maintain his hot hand, or the breakneck pace needed to last the whole game.
Neither would happen. Thomas shot 3-10 in the second half after shooting 7-13 in the first and the game eventually slowed forcing both teams to execute in the half court, which Michigan preferred.
3: LSU turnovers
You gotta give them credit, LSU didn’t beat themselves.
22/8: Michigan’s assists versus LSU’s.
This right here is what I’d point to as the biggest reason Michigan beat LSU. The Wolverines assisted on 22 of its 28 field goals. LSU had eight on 27 makes. Michigan moved the ball around, passed up good shots for better ones and was perfectly at ease trying to execute out of the half court.
LSU doesn’t play that way and it cost them. Now part of that is because they have four truly great scorers who can create for themselves, but we saw what happened when LSU’s core four scorers don’t all have great nights. Javonte Smart and Cam Thomas did, but Trendon Watford and Darius Days didn’t. LSU-Michigan devolved into a game of two versus eight and Michigan, deeper team, unsurprisingly advanced.
50/46/93: Michigan’s shooting splits in the second half
Of course a byproduct of ball movement are easier looks and Michigan seemingly couldn’t miss in the second half. Compare that to LSU’s 37/22/71 percent splits in the second half and that’s how a tightly contested first half gets away from you.
56 percent: LSU’s shooting at the rim
Studley’s harped on this all basketball season, but LSU was pretty bad finishing at the rim for most of the year and it showed up again Monday. LSU was 10 of 18 from that area. Sometimes basketball boils down to makes versus misses and LSU just couldn’t finish from point blank range.
For context, Michigan made 73 percent of its shots at the rim. If LSU makes that same amount that’s eight extra points. And what was the final difference? Eight points.
4: Big decisions looming for LSU
There is a very real chance LSU loses all four of Smart, Thomas, Watford and Days. In fact I’d bet everything I have LSU loses three: Thomas, Watford and one of Smart or Days. Thomas is a first round pick, you’re simply not getting him back; Watford may not be a first but seems universally agreed upon as a draftable prospect; and Javonte Smart’s already tested the draft waters twice before, so I’d imagine this year is the year he finally leaves. Can Will Wade get Days to stay? Can he get any of these guys to stay? However many players Wade can re-recruit will determine whether LSU stays in the upper echelon of the SEC or possibly falls back to the 5-7 range.