Men's Basketball Readies for SEC Tournament Run

LSU head coach Johnny Jones (right) with Johnny O'Bryant III (2)
LSU head coach Johnny Jones (right) with Johnny O'Bryant III (2)
Quinn Perret
Kent Lowe (@LSUkent)
Kent Lowe (@LSUkent)
Communications Sr. Associate

BATON ROUGE – It’s the “third season” for the LSU men’s basketball team and the Tigers began focusing on what they hope will be a four-game week of games at the Southeastern Conference Tournament which begins on Wednesday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

LSU is the seventh seed in this year’s tournament and has a first-round bye from playing on Wednesday and will meet 10th-seed Alabama in the third of four second round games Thursday night at 7 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. Baton Rouge time). The game will be televised on SEC TV and broadcast on the affiliates of the LSU Sports Radio Network.

The winner of LSU (18-12) and Alabama (13-18) will meet second-seed Kentucky (which received a double bye to the quarterfinals) on Friday at 7 p.m. EDT.

The team returned to practice on Monday afternoon and will have a one-hour workout prior to a late afternoon departure for Atlanta on Tuesday. The team will be at the Georgia Dome on Wednesday for a press conference and a 45-minute practice session that all of seeds 5-10 are given on that day by the league. The team will also take part in a community service project that the league is sponsoring on Wednesday.

Games on Wednesday night, all day Thursday and Friday night will be televised by SEC TV. The Friday afternoon session will be televised by ESPNU. The semifinal Saturday games will be shown on ABC and the championship will be televised by ESPN on Sunday afternoon at 2:15 p.m.

Coach Johnny Jones met with the media and discussed several subjects prior to Monday’s practice. Here are some of his comments:


Opening Statement…
“After a setback against one of the – I think one of the better playing teams in our conference, Georgia, Saturday. We need to bounce back and get ready for what we like to call a third season – the conference tournament.  It’s going to be an exciting time and opportunity I think for all teams involved because your automatic qualifier is the team that cuts down the nets on Sunday afternoon at that tournament. Teams will certainly go in there looking for that last opportunity to put themselves in position to take it out of the hands of any committee to get that automatic spot. We will be one of those teams vying for that spot as well. We’ve got a tough opponent in Alabama who finished their regular season off in great fashion Saturday, dismantling one of the teams that I thought was playing the best in our conference outside of Florida in Arkansas. I thought Alabama did a tremendous job getting off to a great start, finishing strong and playing well. So they will certainly be going into the conference tournament with a great deal of confidence. That will be our draw, and we’ll have to go in there and play extremely well, making sure that we’re focused to hopefully be in there and play four really good days of basketball. I think our guys are up for the challenge, and we’ll start preparing for that today after Saturday’s setback. We look forward to putting that behind us and making sure that we can maybe clean up some areas that we’ve been working on all year. Hopefully, that will come to past, and we can really put forth great days together – that being rebounding and making sure we’re defending at the point of contact and make sure that we stop teams. If we can defend well, rebound the ball well, I think some good things are in store for us. That’s what we look forward to doing.”

On the Alabama game improving LSU or setting a specific game plan…
“Both – we’re going to have to do a great job in terms of getting better, executing what we need to and making sure that we’re doing that at a high rate, valuing the possessions. On the defensive end, we have to make sure that we get stops. On the flip side, Alabama is a very good basketball team. They’ve kind of revamped some things that they’re doing. We’re going to make sure that we have to really focus in on exactly key components of their basketball team in (Trevor) Releford, how he’s playing right now, and (Levi) Randolph and their other guys that are really playing a significant role on their basketball team. So it’s going to be both. We’re going to have to do a better job improving who we are and then certainly scouting reporting Alabama.”

On if he sees a run coming from his team…
“It’s really tough. I think the only time you can really tell that is when you get into the games and the tournament because it’s a three, four, or five-day cycle or whatever it may be of how your team is playing during that time. That first game is a real important game. It’s really one of the tougher games to play – that first one – getting off and getting comfortable in that game and then getting on a roll. If you are playing somebody that hadn’t played in that second game, then you feel a little bit of an advantage because you’ve been out there on the floor. Some people think that, ‘Well, you could be tired – your legs in back-to-back games.’ Well you feel sometimes comfortable being out there because of the layoff some times of your opponent. You have to really play to that. So you feel that you have the pieces in place to do what you feel. I feel that, that we’ve got the type of team; we’re healthy; they’re in place right now that we should be able to compete at a great level, but you won’t know that until you throw it up on the day that you’re playing.”

On comparing the SEC Tournament to the Old Spice Classic…
“Yeah – I think we played in that tournament I think it was Thursday, Friday, off Saturday and played on Sunday. But I think what you’re speaking of holds true to what we’re trying to do. I thought it served a purpose in terms of our preparation. It was good for our guys because it was quick prep, a quick turnaround, scouting report, being able to play, then you have to shorten some things that you do. It becomes more mental once you get into those games in terms of your preparation than it is floor time because a lot of times you want to make sure that you’re on the floor that you’re walking through certain things out there on the floor and in depth. Then, you have to go at it extensively and depending on how hard you go – when it comes this time of year, it’s more of a mental thing. It’s more video, walkthrough and then preparation when you get to hit the floor. That team with the passion or toughness and that focus has a chance to really separate themselves from the others. That’s what we hope we are.”

On the Southeastern Conference as a whole…
“Ï think it’s going to be a phenomenal tournament. I think it’s going to start on Wednesday because I think you’re going to have four teams out there playing and competing to try to get to that next day. And then following that on Thursday, those early games – you’re going to have other teams that have had an opportunity to get a game under their belt competing and playing along with the other first-day teams trying to get to that Friday. When you look at how Arkansas and Tennessee has really played down the stretch and what Alabama was able to do the other day. Just take Florida out of the equation. They’ve done a tremendous job. They’re sitting there undefeated. They obviously have played as the cream of the crop in our league, but you have other teams that are looking for that opportunity. Then when you look back at the regular season, the teams that played Florida extremely close looking for another opportunity that may have only had an opportunity to play them once during last season, catching them on a neutral floor, what they feel that their chances may be in the tournament. That’s something that everyone looks forward to. It’s going to be a great tournament. I think you have so much parity in our league – is that – I think people are in for an exciting time in the conference tournament.”

On having a chance to play early being an advantage…
“Right – you’ve got to get there and play in front of that crowd and in that arena and that backdrop. You have a certain comfort zone in there. The other team will have an opportunity of practice in there but again they are coming off of a layoff. Depending on if they’ve had an opportunity to play on that Thursday or Friday – these teams that played that Thursday – you catch that Friday team that hadn’t had an opportunity to get out there and play and execute at that level. You have the momentum going and your guys are excited and confident at that time. That’s what you’re looking for. That’s what that team on Friday generally catches. They catch a very confident team going into that game. The thing that I think is the negative sometimes and people will think is what your depth looks like and if you’re able to play on those back-to-back days and be able to do it. This is what Georgia did just a few years ago in Atlanta as well when they had an opportunity to capture the tournament. It’s a rush; its adrenaline; its focus and attention to detail and mindset when you get to that level.”

On setting up a rotation of players for a short bench…
“We don’t have a whole lot of options unfortunately right now because we’re only playing about seven guys right now and maybe eight if – we’ve worked John Odo sometime in the lineup. You may have to stretch that a little bit if you can find some time, and you would like to. But this time of year games are so close and minutes are so important that it comes down to seconds and making plays. It becomes extremely tough. You’d like to try to find some time to get a little bit deeper maybe in your rotation. Teams that are able to do that – guys are stepping up – some good things generally happen for you. For us, Malik (Morgan)’s deal, that certainly doesn’t help us because of being in the rotation where he was for us to go inside and do those other guys”

On the teams schedule throughout the conference tournament…
“Tomorrow, we will practice here again in preparation and start working even more on Alabama. We will leave out tomorrow afternoon. We will get to Atlanta late tomorrow evening, dinner, get up on Wednesday and do some community service there in Atlanta that’s in conjunction with the conference tournament. We will have media, practice again and then dinner that night. On Thursday, we will get locked in and ready to play on Thursday. Our schedule will just follow games and practice.”

On cutting down the scouting report process…
“It’s more so cutting down time on the floor. You try to give the players that same information in terms of scouting report of what we’re looking for—what we are trying to take away from our opponent—what we are trying to get them to play away from their strengths—and push them and force them into probably their lesser percentage opportunities out there on the floor. For us, our ability to attack them offensively and what we look to do in terms of our percentage rate and the way that we would like to do it against our opponent. That’s more so just for the kids and feeding them so they have a pretty good understanding.  Again, it’s more of mental thing and going in there we have always seen each one of these opponents we will be faced with in the next few days in some fashions. That’s going to help us but at the same time you mentally have to put yourself in place. I have been fortunate when you have teams and you are putting in those scouting reports and you are going over those things for the second or third time with your team, it’s great when your team has guys on the team that start asking questions about certain plays or certain cuts or how we are going to handle certain screening situations. That lets you know that they are in tune to what you are talking about and what you are doing, and you feel like you have a little bit of an edge then.”

On good shooting teams struggling in domes and whether or not to play a zone…
“They shot the ball well on Saturday at home - that is a great question. We are going to have to probably mix it up a little bit against them just because of the make-up of their team and some things that they have changed and how they are playing now.  So we will have to probably give them several different looks and hopefully they don’t get comfortable out there because they have the ability to play inside and out right now.”

On the regular season being a success or not…
“Absolutely—I mean you win 18 games and you’re out there in this conference—a very tough conference—you wind up having a non-losing season, I think it says something. I have been around this league a long time, and you have seen teams go through their cycles. This team for me, our second season here with the players that we have had in the program and how I think the league from last year to this year has improved and gotten better, although we probably didn’t win some of those games, I thought we were able to compete on the road in some other games that we had some opportunities late. You have to be playing well to put yourself in that position. Even here at home, the games we won in the fashion that we won, those games I think says something about the growth really of this team, and the anticipation and excitement that has built up around it because people aren’t sitting there expecting us not to do well. they are on the edge wanting you to do well.  When things just don’t happen you have a little bit more of an edge really about yourself and I thought that’s where we were this year and I thought it was good. I think it was obviously a successful regular season but we are certainly looking for more.

On Johnny O'Bryant III draft decision being a quicker process…
“Absolutely—I think Johnny (O’Bryant III) is a lot closer now because it is his junior year and next year he won’t have a choice. So right now you have to really look and weigh heavily on the decision that you would like to make moving forward. We look forward to that happening here in the near future.”

On whether or not Johnny O'Bryant III addressed some of the NBA’s critiques…
“I think he has addressed some of those things, but I think a lot more goes into it than that. I think who is coming out this year … who are the people that are in front of you in those positions, there are a lot of things and a lot of facets that go into the draft and what they look at. I mean we talk about these kids here and we talk about the kids overseas that we haven’t heard of that could be first round draft picks and those things. So there are a lot of things that are added into that equation. When that time comes we will get that information disseminated to the people that need to be to help him in terms of making his decision.

On playing wanting to play loose or “back against the wall” in the tournament…
“A little bit of both—I want them to understand that we need to be playing at a certain level. I think when you have your back against the wall there is a certain sense of urgency that you have. That looseness is that you’re not putting too much pressure on yourself in terms of being able to perform that you’re playing too tight. So I think you have to have a little bit of both and understand how to deal with it and weigh them. “

On fatigue…
“I think it is certainly an issue, but I think at the same time it is a mindset that you go in with and understanding what’s out there in front of you and what you are willing to do, what you are willing to give up, how bad are you willing to hurt and how bad do you want it to put yourself in that position to have the type of drive that you need, that you don’t look for excuses that you look for results. … You’ve got the top teams out there - they’ve got to win three games in three days to win it, even if it’s Florida. You don’t – you don’t put yourself in that position that you are worrying about legs and bodies and all those kind of things. You worry about that at the end of the season. But what you do worry about it is the reward at the end if you put it out there on the line and lay it all out there.”




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