LSU will be dangerous if young Tigers mature
HARTFORD, Conn. -- John Brady's body language spoke volumes. He didn't pout. He didn't pound his fist or sulk. Instead, LSU's head coach went right to point guard Darrel Mitchell and told him he took a good shot, the right shot.
Mitchell's 3-pointer from the top of the key in the final seconds didn't drop, allowing No. 2 Connecticut to walk away with a 67-66 victory at the Hartford Civic Center.
In truth, the Tigers aren't all that upset by the outcome.
And why should they be? Behind a starting lineup of three freshmen, a sophomore and a senior, LSU has played three true road games. Do you know how rare that is for a high-major team? The Tigers went to West Virginia and won by two in overtime. They went to Ohio State last week and lost by two on Matt Sylvester's 3-pointer in the closing seconds. And now this: a one-point loss to the Huskies. The Tigers also lost a three-point game in Las Vegas to Cincinnati after leading most of the way. Their fifth loss came at home to Northern Iowa by four.
"We're the best 8-5 team in the country," Brady said.
Brady said he went straight for Mitchell, the team's lone senior, to tell him not to worry about the shot. UConn coach Jim Calhoun said it was a good one, as well.
"That shows he's depending on me," said Mitchell, who gutted out 21 points in 36 minutes after banging a knee during the course of the game. Mitchell, a shooting guard when he arrived at LSU, moved to the point after Tack Minor was lost for this season due to a left knee injury.
"What this game shows is that we're a tough team," Mitchell said. "We went to Ohio State and should have won that game. We should have won the Northern Iowa game at home, as well as Cincinnati. Now we lost to the No. 2 team in the country on their homecourt. This shows a lot about our character."
Brady said he would be worried about his squad if he were losing close games with four seniors and a junior on the floor. But he is playing four freshmen at times, and at least three for most of the possessions. The starting lineup of Mitchell, sophomore Glen "Big Baby" Davis, and lanky freshmen forwards Tasmin Mitchell, Tyrus Thomas (who nearly had a triple double -- 15 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks) and Garrett Temple are, perhaps, the most talented team in the SEC West and, next to Florida, in the SEC overall.
"Those young kids are absolutely sensational," Calhoun said. "I mean, they are really good. They probably have the most deceptive record of 8-5 in the country."
If the NCAA Tournament selection committee is paying attention, then LSU should be fine. The committee implores teams to go out and schedule games on the road and on neutral courts. Teams are supposed to be rewarded for doing this as long as they win some and remain competitive. The committee always stresses that it will look at the games a team can control. Brady said he scheduled these with the thinking he would have Minor at the point and last season's SEC player of the year, Brandon Bass, in the frontcourt. He could have had Minor, but he was suspended for the first seven games before getting injured. Bass declared for the NBA after initially indicating he would stay for his junior season.
"I hope that's the case," Brady said of the schedule helping the Tigers' postseason cause. "If we have 10 or 12 wins [in the SEC] when it comes time for selection, then hopefully how we played these games will make a difference."
The reality is LSU and Arkansas should be the cream of the SEC West. Ironically, the Tigers' next stop, the start of conference play, is in Fayetteville.
"We're real young and we went into hostile environments and played well," Davis said. "It's scary how high our potential is. We can hold our head up."
The Tigers ran their offense fluidly in the first half Saturday, shooting 53 percent. But there were mistakes made, like careless turnovers and a late three-shot foul on Rashad Anderson. And the Tigers were 3-for-9 on 3-pointers and still need to plug a few offensive holes.
"If I had one more shooter," Brady lamented. "We've had close games against quality teams. We're going to get better and we'll eliminate some of the [mental] mistakes so we can beat a team like Connecticut on its home floor."
The nonconference portion of the season is done. The Tigers did not maximize it because they didn't finish off Cincinnati, Ohio State or UConn. But they came close, won at West Virginia and clearly have a résumé that is stronger than most as they launch into SEC play.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com
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