There’s something to be said about winning all the games you’re supposed to win. But for teams not named Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina or Kansas, you need to win a couple of games you’re supposed to lose if you have postseason aspirations. And the LSU basketball team wasn’t able to do this in nonconference play this year.
The Tigers head into SEC play with an 8-3 record, a respectable start for a team that wasn’t expected to finish higher than 12th in the SEC. And all three of the losses are respectable too; Wichita State, VCU and Wake Forest all rank in the top 60 of the KenPom college basketball rankings.
But only one of LSU’s eight wins came against a quality opponent, and all eight came at home or in a neutral location. Without a single nonconference road win, and no wins against Power 5 schools, it’s hard to imagine LSU contending for an NCAA tournament berth without a strong SEC showing, or a conference title.
With that in mind, let’s do a quick stock report of how LSU basketball stands before its conference opener against Vanderbilt next Thursday.
Stock up: Free-throw shooting
Through its first eight games of the season, LSU basketball shot 60.9 percent from the free-throw line, leaving 54 possible points on the floor.
But over the last three games, the Tigers have vastly improved, shooting 74.3 percent from the line, including a 14-for-17 game versus Texas Southern and a 14-for-18 game versus College of Charleston.
Given that LSU has thrived in close games this year, an improved free-throw shooting percentage can only continue to help this team develop as LSU enters conference play.
Stock down: LSU basketball’s defensive growth
In Thursday night’s 110-76 loss to Wake Forest, the LSU basketball team showed it still has a long way to go to compete with even above average Power 5 competition, let alone the nation’s top-tier schools.
The Demon Deacons shot 16-for-26 from the 3-point line vs. the Tigers. LSU’s opponents made 16 3-pointers in their last three games combined. One Wake Forest player, Dinos Mitoglou, made eight 3-pointers on his own, twice as many as LSU made as a team.
Perimeter defense has been a matter of concern all season for LSU basketball, but never had it been exposed the way that Wake Forest did.
Staying put: Craig Victor’s statistical plateau
Sometimes plateauing isn’t a bad thing.
In the five games since returning to LSU’s starting lineup, Craig Victor has averaged 13.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. More impressively, there haven’t been any outliers in Victor’s performances. He’s posted 9, 11, 10, 10 and 9 rebounds, and 13, 8, 14, 18 and 14 points in these five games.
Twice in those five games, Victor has posted a proper double-double.