The LSU Tigers are continuing to move in the wrong direction. Their upcoming game against the Texas A&M Aggies will occur on the last day of February.
By Matt Zemek
Coach Will Wade has to find a way to get this ship turned around before the SEC and NCAA Tournaments. LSU is moving down the seeding list, as opposed to moving up or merely maintaining its position. Everything which worked well in January has ceased to function smoothly in February. This team doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel; it needs to get back to playing the winning basketball it had been displaying earlier in the season. What is weird about LSU’s journey is that the Tigers – after winning a lot of close games they were fortunate to win – began to win a few games by larger margins. There was a brief period of time in which LSU was showing signs of evolving, while the Tigers were relentlessly winning games. A team with a high ceiling was raising that ceiling even more.
Now, after the past three weeks of abysmal basketball, LSU can’t even raise its floor. The Tigers have cratered, but now they need to reset the dial, pick themselves up, and regain the winning edge they once had. Regaining that winning edge will require a few fundamental responses.
1 – Recommitment to defense
What is going on with LSU at the defensive end of the floor? Defense is where this team gained an 8-0 SEC record, and defense is how this team will regroup against A&M and throughout the month of March, if indeed a revival occurs for the Bayou Bengals.
LSU played strong late-game defense against numerous opponents in January, which is precisely what allowed the Tigers to rally in the final five to seven minutes of various games in which they started slowly. Keep in mind that Kentucky has been playing a lot of games this season in which it struggled for 30 to 33 minutes and then flourished down the stretch, primarily by locking down the opposing team’s offense. That is what LSU did in much of January, the Mississippi State game being a representative example. In February, LSU isn’t starting well on defense, and it isn’t finishing well. Bad sequences turn into bad games. This isn’t one failure by one player; it is a collective erosion of what this team had been doing well in January. Every player in the locker room must recommit to defense. This is a gut-check moment for the Tigers, and everyone can see it. The question is, will anyone play with an appropriate amount of intensity?
2 – Leadership
Who steps up? Who sets the right tone? Who – by playing well but also by communicating urgently and effectively – will light a fire under this team? Crisis reveals leadership, and LSU needs to find a leader who will change the internal dynamic of this team heading into March.
3 – Start strong
Kentucky punched A&M in the mouth very early, and the Aggies had no answer. Texas A&M had been building confidence over the previous few weeks as it climbed in the SEC standings, but when a good team made a forceful early statement, the Aggies were rattled. LSU needs to make that kind of statement and put the Aggies in their place. Recent weeks have shown that LSU can no longer play 33 mediocre minutes and then flip the “on” switch in the final seven. Start well, stay focused, and blitz A&M on Saturday.