In true Johnny Jones form, the LSU Tiger basketball team is catching fire at just the right time. During his previous stint at North Texas, the first-year LSU coach gained a reputation for getting his teams to play at the top of their game just as tournament season approached.
With six games to go in conference play, and fresh off a convincing 80-68 win over Mississippi State, it appears that Jones is not deviating from his old calling card. LSU (15-8, 6-6) is playing its best basketball of the season, and after starting off 0-4 in the SEC, has won five of its last six games.
The Tigers have been led by tenacious point guard Anthony Hickey, who has feasted on steals from his central position in LSU’s full-court press. Lately, however, much of the attention has gone to power forward Johnny O’Bryant III, and rightfully so. O’Bryant had 30 points in LSU’s 64-46 trouncing of South Carolina, and followed that up with another solid outing against Mississippi State. With Hickey and O’Bryant continuing to perfect their inside-outside two-man game, and with role players like Andre Stringer, Andrew Del Piero, and Charles Carmouche hitting timely shots, the Tigers are sure to be a tough out as the regular season finish line draws near.
LSU has already exceeded most expectations for this season, and these young Tigers have set the stage for the Jones era with a fast-paced, exciting style of play, coupled with an unrelenting competitive fire. They’ve nearly perfected the art of the comeback, and almost all of their conference losses have been nail-biters, with the exception coming against fourth-ranked Florida.
On Tuesday night, the Tigers attempt to carry their momentum all the way to Knoxville, TN, for a challenging matchup with the Tennessee Volunteers on ESPNU. The game presents a bit of a showdown, as Tennessee also comes in with the hot hand. The Vols crushed 25th-ranked Kentucky by 30 points on Saturday, and are tied with LSU with an identical 6-6 SEC record.
Something has to give in Rocky Top, as one of these squads will move into the top half of the standings with a winning conference record. A victory for LSU would be huge, and would place Johnny Jones in a position that’s already quite familiar to him as a coach: leading a red-hot basketball team down the final stretch, and on into March.
While the final chapters of the current season are still yet to be written, the future certainly looks bright for LSU, which already has a likely Top-10 recruiting class secured for next season. The class features one of the nation’s very best high school players in McDonald’s All-American Jarrell Martin.
But for the moment, Jones is squeezing the absolute maximum out of what he has at his disposal.