BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU basketball team is going to make some changes tonight. The only question is how drastic the changes will be.
After a 1-2 start to SEC play, the LSU basketball team (9-5) heads to College Station, Texas to face Texas A&M tonight. Just like LSU, the Aggies have stumbled to start SEC play, opening up 0-3. But two of A&M’s losses have been to Kentucky and South Carolina, the teams at the top of the conference, while LSU’s losses to Vanderbilt and Mississippi State look slightly less respectable.
Over its last four games, LSU has allowed an average of 94.5 points per contest, a mark that on its own would give LSU the third-worst defense in college basketball. According to Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency rating, LSU has the worst defense in the SEC per 100 possessions by a landslide, ranking 69 positions behind the next worst team.
As a result of this, LSU is primed to make a lineup change. The Tigers need a defensive jolt. And getting smaller just might be the way to do it.
“We have to do a better job of putting people in the right places that are capable of making those plays,” LSU basketball coach Johnny Jones said after LSU’s loss to Mississippi State on Saturday. “We may have to play a little smaller than we would like. Put the guys who are better ball-handlers and decision-makers out there on the floor.”
One such player is point guard Branden Jenkins. A junior college transfer, Jenkins is only three games into his LSU career after missing the first two months of the year rehabbing a knee injury. Jenkins was recruited for his reputation as a defense-first guard and, because of that reputation, Jenkins is doing what he can to help his approach seep into the way his teammates play.
If you ask anyone involved with the LSU basketball team, from Jones to Jenkins to any player or coach in between, they’ll tell you one of LSU’s biggest defensive issues is communication. With the exception of Jenkins, LSU’s players haven’t been particularly vocal on the court this year.
And to Jenkins, that’s a recipe for failure.
“Communication don’t cost anything. You’ve just got to open their mouth. If they want to win, they’ll open their mouth. If they want to lose, they’ll continue to keep their mouth closed.”
It hasn’t been all bad for LSU. By field goal percentage, LSU still has the third-best offense in the SEC behind Kentucky and Texas A&M. But even that comes with a caveat.
There’s been an alarming trend in LSU’s last few losses that the Tigers have been allowing an unnecessarily high amount of points in transition because of foolish turnovers. Jenkins credited the trend to the offense being “stagnant.” There’s not enough movement on the court, making passing lanes predictable and giving defenders free reign to jump in front of passes and run in transition.
One fix to this might be moving to a three point guard set. Jones has experimented with using Jenkins, Skylar Mays and Jalyn Patterson together at various points over the last three games, and Jenkins described such situations as times when the offense is at its most creative and most active.
But can a three point guard or a four guard set save the LSU defense? Why not, right?
“Anything would work right now,” Jenkins said.
LSU basketball tonight
Projected starting 5
First players off bench:
Guard: Branden Jenkins, Brandon Sampson
Forward: Wayde Sims
Texas A&M vs. LSU
When: 7:30 p.m. CT
Where: Reed Arena, College Station, Texas
Watch: SEC Network
Listen: LSU Sports Radio Network (98.1 FM in Baton Rouge)