Hoops Focused on Improvements Ahead of Big Tests
Digital Media Reporter
There are three words no LSU Basketball player wants to hear Will Wade say: "Southern Miss Rebounding."
It's by far the hardest drill in Wade's arsenal, a grueling ringer that requires its participants to get three "perfect" stops in a row. Wade, of course, is the judge of what's perfect, and his usually high standards are even higher this week, as the Tigers prepare for a pre-conference gauntlet in the days to come.
So when an exhausting practice appeared to end after three hours Monday and Wade uttered that fateful triad, his staff could only marvel and ask, 'What in the world is going on?'
The answer, Wade says, is simple.
“Being tougher," Wade said Thursday of LSU's focus over a 14-day stretch that will feature just one game before Sunday’s 1 p.m. home tipoff vs. Incarnate Word. “Getting tougher and grittier and grimier. Being able to dig out some wins down the stretch. Being able to dig out wins when everything doesn’t go our way and the game isn’t played exactly how we want it to be played.”
It’s the underlying theme of a two-week work period that will allow the Tigers a rare opportunity: self-reflection. A college basketball season features little downtime to self-scout and modify internally, but that’s exactly what LSU has been doing since arriving back from Orlando November 25. It's a necessary window before the Tigers gear up for a two-game road trip against undefeated Houston and perennial power St. Mary's before a return home against undefeated and ranked Furman.
“This is the first time since the preseason we’ve been able to get back and work on ourselves,” Wade said. “We’ve had games every two or three days leading up until this point, preparing for other team, working on other teams. This is the first time we’ve been able to focus on ourselves, study our own tendencies, try to change what we’re doing, fit our scheme better around our personnel, put our guys in a little bit better position.”
Here are some of the fixes Wade has had in mind.
1. Just Put the Ball in Play
Through eight games, LSU boasts the nation’s 19th most efficient offense, per KenPom.com, but there’s one glaring deficiency in the Tigers’ attack: turnovers.
LSU ranks 206th nationally in turnover percentage, giving the ball away on 19.8 percent of its possessions. In Saturday’s 78-57 win over Grambling, the hosts turned the ball over 19 times.
Wade’s adjustment has been to take away the 10 ‘free’ turnovers he permits his team each practice. That allotment is down to zero – the first turnover means instant conditioning.
There’s another fix the head coach has in mind besides punitive cardio, though.
“If we’ll just make simple plays,” he said. “A lot of our (turnovers) is just trying to do crazy things. I tell them all the time, they’re swinging for home runs. Just put the ball in play. Make simple plays.”
2. Get Back
On defense, the Tigers have been emphasizing improvements in transition. Teams are shooting an effective field goal percentage of 59.8 percent on the break against LSU this season, which ranks 296th in the country.
Wade has his team working on getting back into both man and zone looks. The latter defense should suit the bigger lineups LSU is looking to employ with Marlon Taylor and Darius Days each getting increased time at the 3 spot.
“We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time working on our transition back to man and zone,” Wade said. “I think we’re getting better there.”
3. Do Both
The third area Wade’s stressed all week is rebounding. The Tigers shored up that facet against Grambling with a 45-26 advantage on the glass, and LSU remains an elite offensive rebounding team – its 36.7 offensive rebounding percentage ranks 24th in the country.
Still, there is room for improvement on the defensive glass, where Florida State exposed the Tigers in Orlando by grabbing 22 offensive rebounds.
Drills like Southern Miss Rebounding and plenty of talk about the differences in high school rebounding and college rebounding, Wade hopes, should correct any deficiencies on the boards.
“We’re trying to build some toughness, some rebounding, a hit-first mentality on the rebounding,” he said. “We gotta have ball getters. In high school, it was good enough to just block them out. You’re in college now – you’ve got to block them out and go get the ball. You’ve got to do multiple things to play at this level.”
4. Not Worried About Naz
Earlier in the week, Wade met with freshman Naz Reid, who is averaging 11.6 points per game on the season but has been in single figures in five of LSU’s last six games.
His message to Reid was simple: keep at it. While Reid’s scoring hasn’t been where the freshman would like it to be, his play regarding the little things – hustle, determination, toughness – has been to a level that makes Wade confident the points will come.
“He leads our team in charges taken,” Wade said. “You get a McDonald’s All-American taking charges…he got on the floor for a loose ball to help us win the UNC-Greensboro game. I told him this the other day when I met with him – you’re doing all the little things to help us win on the other end. You keep focusing on that stuff, the offense will come. He’s coming. By the time we get to SEC play, he’s going to be a problem. He’s going to be a major problem for other teams.”
Wade called it the freshman learning curve and pointed to other high-profile recruits at other schools who’ve not yet established themselves offensively as they might’ve planned.
“Naz is doing well,” he said. “You look at some of the freshmen around the country. Nassir Little comes off the bench for North Carolina. (Jahvon) Quinerly doesn’t even play sometimes for Villanova. It’s hard. It’s a major transition. For a lot of guys, this is the first time in their basketball lives that things haven’t gone exactly as they planned. When things don’t do as planned, in the past if they had a bad game, they could just show back up and everything would work out the next game because they were just so much better than everyone else. This is a great time for growth. It’s a great time for learning. I think our freshman and some of our newer guys have taken the right lessons from these situations. I think we’ll be better for it as we move towards conference play.”