• LSUBEAT.com • Schedules • Depth Chart • Recruits • LSU in NFL • LSU Gear

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ross' gem

Austin Ross pitched LSU to a 2-1 win over Ole Miss on Sunday to give the Tigers the series victory.

I had the opportunity to watch Ross pitch some in high school and I came away very impressed,but not for the reasons you may think.

What impressed me most about Ross was the fact that, as baseball people like to say, he knew what he was doing out there. He wasn't trying to strike everybody out. He was letting his defense play behind him. He was efficient in his pitch count.

Now, fast forward to Sunday's game against Ole Miss.

Ross went eight innings and threw 89 pitches. That is pretty efficient. He allowed only two hits and one run.

Sure, his strikeout total (five) was modest. But what good is piling up a lot of strikeouts if you're not around near the end of the game?

Now, I'm not saying he's going to throw two-hitters all of the time. But I am saying the kid has a pretty good idea of what he's doing on the mound.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Scrimmage talk

Since we won't get to see LSU until the spring game, we have to take Les Miles and the sports information office at their word.

That being said, there's been enough good things said about defensive back Ron Brooks this spring that he figures to be a player to watch.

Brooks intercepted a pair of passes today and returned one for a touchdown. He also had three tackles.

(No funny jokes about the quarterbacks, please).

A lot of times you have spring practice heroes that you never hear from again. But Brooks may be one of those players who gradually emerges in his college career.

Anyway, there were no big shocks from the scrimmage Saturday.

Les Miles says Jordan Jefferson is "in the lead at quarterback.'' No kidding.

Russell Shepard looked great running the football. Again, no real surprise there.

Drake Nevis and Chad Jones played well on defense. Again, no real surprise.

Anyway, all this does is whet the appetite of the die-hard football fans.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A good sign for LSU baseball

As I was looking at the probable pitchers for this weekend's series with Ole Miss, I saw where the worst ERA among LSU's three starters was Austin Ross' 2.82 ERA.

Just to show you how strong that three-man rotation is for LSU, Ross' ERA ranks 13th in the entire 12-team SEC.

Think about that for a second.

Then consider that LSU's team ERA is third in the SEC behind Georgia and Kentucky at 3.50. And that the Tigers boast the best walk-strikeout ratio in the conference (51-238).

No matter what percentage of the game pitching is, it is certainly one of the great factors in deciding outcomes in a baseball game. And as long as you've got that kind of starting pitching, you should be in pretty good shape.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Congrats to Todd Walker

Todd Walker will be inducted into College Baseball's Hall of Fame in July.

It is a fitting honor for Walker, who played high school baseball at Airline and collegiately at LSU.

It also doesn't come as a surprise. He was a .400 hitter as a freshman, a College World Series MVP and national champion as a sophomore, a College World Series participant again and a first-round draft pick as a junior.

And when you want to discuss the best position players in LSU history, he's certainly in the discussion -- at a school with a rich heritage over the last 25 years.

So congratulations to Todd Walker.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

More on recruiting

Scout.com released the rest of its top 300 football prospects for next football season.

After having two players from Louisiana on the top 100, the state had four more players in the next 200 announced today.

Those in that group include Dutchtown safety Eric Reid (LSU commitment), Newman safety Ronnie Vinson, Capitol quarterback Terrance Broadway and Eunice athlete Tharold Simon (LSU commitment).

It's still early and there is plenty of time for movement up and down the recruiting rankings.

But six players in the top 300 is not quite the haul we saw last year.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Not-so-great year ahead

I just got done looking at Scout.com's top 100 for next football season and unless I missed somebody, I counted just two players -- wide receiver Trovon Reed of Thibodaux and defensive end Jordan Allen of West Monroe -- on that list of top prospects for 2010.

Reed is ranked as the No. 19 player and Allen comes in at 100.

If you're wondering why this is important, well, it's hard to have a top-tier recruiting class if the state is not cranking out top-tier talent.

That's why LSU was able to have such a good recruiting class in February. Yes, there were some great out-of-state players in that class, but you also had Rueben Randle, Barkevious Mingo, Chris Davenport and Chris Faulk all fall the Tigers' way.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A pretty good weekend

All in all, it was a pretty good weekend for LSU sports.

Sure, the basketball team got knocked out of the NCAA Tournament. But raise your hand if a year ago you thought LSU would a) win the SEC basketball championship; b) win an NCAA Tournament game and c) lead top-seeded North Carolina in the second half of an NCAA Tournament game?

Even though they lost, the Tigers basketball team showed well for themselves.

Ditto for the LSU women -- although they won their first-round game on Sunday. The Lady Tigers play Louisville on Tuesday and that will probably be the end of the line for LSU.

But at least LSU is still playing. Tennessee's Lady Vols were knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history on Sunday.

And the Tigers baseball team won two out of three games at South Carolina with some good pitching and a couple of offensive explosion.

Yes, it was a pretty good weekend for LSU.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lawson plays, so do many other Heels

GREENSBORO, N.C. - North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson started and played 14 minutes in the first half with frequent breaks and only showed some flashes on his injured toe, but it didn't matter. The Tar Heels have many other players with healty big toes and led LSU 38-29 at halftime Saturday afternoon in the second round of the NCAA Tournament South Region.

Lawson had three assists and two points, while Tyler Hansbrough scored 12 points after some early struggles. Guard Wayne Ellington scored 11. UNC shot 16 for 31 in the first half for 51 percent, while LSU hit just 12 of 30 for 40 percent. LSU's Marcus Thornton struggled, hitting just 3 of 9 shots and 1 of 5 from 3-point range for seven points.

The Tigers did play well in spots, though, and were not intimidated. LSU led often in the early going, and after falling behind by 19-14 on a Hansbrough jumper with 9:37 to play in the half, the Tigers fought back to take a 20-19 lead on a long jumper by Chris Johnson. A rebound and putback by Quintin Thornton put LSU back up at 22-21, but North Carolina took over from there.

The Tar Heels went on an 8-0 run to take a 29-22 lead on a drive and lay-up by Lawson, and the crowd dominated by Carolina blue went wild and drowned out a small gathering of LSU fans supported by loud Duke fans in the arena before their game with Texas tonight.

North Carolina extended the lead to 10 at 36-26 on a layup and foul shout by Danny Green.

How LSU can pull the upset

GREENSBORO, N.C. - If point guard Ty Lawson does not play, No. 8 seed LSU will have a decent chance of pulling off a major upset this afternoon in the heart of the Atlantic Coast Conference at Greensboro Coliseum against No. 1 seed North Carolina.

Tip off is at 4:45 p.m.

At about 4:15, we should know if Lawson will play for the Tar Heels for the first time since March 8 against Duke. He has been nursing an injured toe for two weeks and sat out North Carolina's last three games. Even if he does play, he will likely not be at 100 percent and his toe will likely get worse as the game goes on.

Now, even if Lawson, who is one very quick point guard, is at 85 percent, he's still better than most point guards, and that includes LSU point guard Bo Spencer. But North Carolina will not be as good as it could be if Lawson is not full go. With 16 points and 6.5 assists a game, he is to the Heels what Marcus Thornton is to LSU.

Secondly, LSU needs to contain forward Tyler Hansbrough, who is averaging 21.4 points and 8.2 rebounds a game. LSU coach Trent Johnson should put Tasmin Mitchell on Hansbrough for virtually the whole game. At 6-foot-7 and a beefy 240 pounds, Mitchell is a better match-up for Hansbrough, who is 6-9 and 250, than LSU center Chris Johnson, a light pole at 6-11 and not much more than 200.

Mitchell is very sure of himself and somewhat cocky, which is what you need in a game like this. He's never lacked for confidence since his Denham Springs days. He's got the personality of a Tyrus Thomas, who scared the little Dukeys three years ago before beating them. Johnson is really just now growing into his body and realizing what he can do. He does not always have a lot of confidence. Hansbrough could eat him alive. He won't do that to Mitchell.

"I wouldn't mind guarding him," Mitchell said. If he can stay out of foul trouble and still do some scoring, it could work. Put Johnson on 6-8, 245-pound forward Deon Thompson and 6-10, 215-pound freshman forward Ed Davis when he comes off the bench.
If LSU can contain Hansbrough ... if Thornton and Mitchell have the games of their lives ... if Spencer and Johnson can both score in double figures ... if Temple does a little bit of everything ... if LSU plays better defense than it has all season and it has played very good defense all season ... and if North Carolina plays poorly - IT COULD HAPPEN.

Some recent happenings in the NCAA Tournament bode well for the Tigers, who slayed ACC socialite and No. 1 seed Duke just three years ago with Thomas.

The ACC Almighty is suddenly 3-4 in the tournament with No. 4 seed Wake Forest getting run by and over by my new favorite team - No. 13 seed Cleveland State - Friday night by an 84-69 score, No. 7 Boston College getting slapped by No. 10 USC 72-55, No. 5 Florida State falling to No. 12 Wisconsin 61-59 in overtime and No. 7 Clemson losing to No. 10 Michigan 62-59.

"The mighty Big East has no sway here," a local columnist here in ACC country wrote Thursday. "This is the one place on earth that considers it a football conference. That's because it's where the ACC goes when it needs football teams."

Uh, the Big East was 6-1 after Friday night, pal. And Villanova led UCLA 44-31 at the half Saturday. The only loss was West Virginia to Dayton.

Another plus for LSU is the fact that President Obama picked North Carolina to win it all, because Obama's picks are not doing that well so far. He had Butler beating LSU for one.

LSU's history in games played for the right to reach the Sweet 16 also bodes well for the Tigers. An LSU win puts it in the Sweet 16 against the Western Kentucky/Gonzaga winner in Memphis on Friday. LSU is 7-2 at this point:

W Appalachian State, 71-57, in 1979
W Alcorn State, 98-88, in 1980**
W Lamar, 71-67, in 1981*
W Memphis, 83-81, in 1986*
W Temple, 72-62, in 1987**
L Georgia Tech, 94-91, in 1990
L Indiana, 94-83, in 1992
W Texas, 72-67, in 2000
W Texas A&M, 58-57, in 2006*

*Later advanced to Final Four
**Later advanced to Elite Eight

Friday, March 20, 2009

Talking Tar Heels

Here is a transcript from today's LSU press conference in Greensboro, N.C., on the day prior to playing the North Carolina Tar Heels in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Q. Could you talk about your role as the defensive stopper, and what that means for this team? And also, the fact that you're a Final Four guy, and what that can do for these guys?
GARRETT TEMPLE: Well, first of all, a lot of people on this team, everybody has their role and understands what their role is. My role is to, you know, play great defense, guard whoever Coach puts me on. Most likely the toughest scorer on the other team or their best 3-point shooter on the other team. I've had to have that role for the last three or four years now. I take it to heart. I try to do the best I can defending whoever coach puts me on. Find out what their tendencies are, you know, and defense is a really big part of my game. That's probably the best thing I bring to the table in terms of basketball. In terms of the Final Four, I mean, that was three years ago, so I don't know if it has that big of a deal with this team, because it's a whole new team. The nucleus is, besides me and Tasmin, everybody else is new that's getting a lot of minutes. But me and Tasmin can pass down some things from that year, in terms of patience, making every possession count. Understanding how important it is to not take anything for granted when you're on this run, and to cherish the moment. Other than that, the basketball game's going to be played how it's played.

Q. How much different of a team is is Carolina without Lawson, than it is with him, and has it been difficult to prepare for them yesterday and today not knowing whether he's going to play or be effective or not?
TASMIN MITCHELL: Like Coach Roy Williams said, you can't replace a Ty Lawson. He's the head of their offense. He makes everything go. But preparing for him? We prepare for him just like he's going to play. We're not taking nothing for granted. We're going to prepare for him like he's going to come out there and lead the team. So it hasn't been that difficult, but, like I said, you can't replace him so we're just going to prepare like he's playing.
MARCUS THORNTON: Like Tasmin said, Ty law a big part to their offense and what they're trying to do. But they have Bobby Frasor and their guard Larry Drew that comes off the bench and does a great job, too. So if he plays, or if he doesn't play, it's going to be the same thing, because what they bring to the table is similar to him, but he just does it in a variety of ways. So we're just going to prepare the best we can, and try to get ready for tomorrow.
GARRETT TEMPLE: Like they said, Ty, the main thing that he does that the other guards don't do as much, he's averaging 6.5 assists. I think the other two combined are averaging 2.5, 3. He pushes the ball well because of his speed. I don't think they can match his speed. But when they get in the half court offense, you know, they pretty much do the same thing. You know, Ty can break off on the dribble a little better than the other two can. But, you know, they're a team, their offense. A lot of guys score in double figures. So the main thing is probably transition.

Q. If you watched the North Carolina game yesterday, then you know that this won't be necessarily a neutral site game. Is it fair that you are going to be a decided underdog to the fans? MARCUS THORNTON: It's basically a home game for them. What we have to do is try to block out all the hoopla that's going on in the stands while the game's going on, and focus on us. It's like a road game to us, so we'll just try to come in, take them out of the game early and try to get it done.
TASMIN MITCHELL: To piggyback on my teammates, like I said, you know, it's going to be like a home game for them, but I all of that stays within the four lines. The fans play a major part in every team's success, but they don't have to play. So like they said it's going to be another road game for us. And we're going to go out and play like it's our last.

Q. Few years ago you knocked out -- you played really good defense on Reddick as you guys knocked Duke out of the NCAA Tournament. Number one, does that seem like forever ago? Number 2, what do you remember about that game?
GARRETT TEMPLE: I mean, yeah that's a pretty good while ago. Three years. People still tell me about it still to this day, ask me about it and remind me. But the thing I remember is just the atmosphere of the Sweet 16 going into that game, being the underdog, similar to what we are now. Going on to play the top seed in the tournament at that stage. You know, it was just a great atmosphere. We just soaked it all up and came in playing with nothing to lose. Expecting to win and play great and we were able to get that win. I feel like this team is going to come out tomorrow and do the same thing.

Q. Would you talk about your team's style and then contrast that to what you've seen of North Carolina, and how y'all differ or are similar when you try to run with them and that sort of thing? GARRETT TEMPLE: Our team's style, well, we've won a variety of games in different ways. We can play slow, you know, we can play Washington, and I think we beat them by like 6. The games in the 50's, always scored up to 85, 80, 85 points. In terms of North Carolina, they run a lot. And they love to score in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. They have a lot of bodies coming in and out. Our team isn't nearly as deep as theirs. So I think to our advantage would be to slow the game down a little bit. Not try to run with them. Take open shots if we have them. You know, take the transition. Don't be scared of transition at all, but be smart in terms of transition. If the numbers aren't there, then slow it down and try to cut them up offensively. So that's the main thing.

Q. Can you talk about the matchups like Garrett, will you be matching up with Ellington? And when Carolina's lost games this year it's mainly been because the opposing team has good penetration from the point of attack at the guard position. How much have you gone over there trying to get at their defense by getting past the first line of defense by Bo Spencer or something like that?
TASMIN MITCHELL: Well, the point of attack will break down any team. Like you said, the team that they lost to this year has done that. So that's, you know what I'm saying, that's the smart thing for us to do is to do what they did to win. So we're going to go out here with our game plan and we're just going to attack. We're going to attack them and play good defense.
MARCUS THORNTON: Like Tasmin said, we watched the Boston College game a lot when they played them at North Carolina, and the guard Tyrese Rice he got in the lane at will, and that kind of disturbed them a little bit. As y'all know Boston College got that win. So it will be very important for us as guards on the perimeter to try to get in the lane and make something happen, and try to get the big men in foul trouble as well as the perimeter.
GARRETT TEMPLE: Boston College did a great job. In terms of the match-ups, we don't exactly know yet. I might be guarding Ellington, Marcus might be guarding him. But because they're so -- what's the word -- they have so many people that can score, Hansbrough, Thompson inside, all three guards are scoring over 13, 14 points a game. It's really going to be a team defensive effort. But, yeah, we did see Tyrese Rice break them down at North Carolina, and that was a big part of them winning the game. We have to do that as well. As well as just run our offense and execute and make them guard us for however long they need to.

Q. Just to kind of piggyback on on the question about Duke a couple years ago. Just talk about going into that game as the big underdog like you would be going into this one, and the mentality of playing a team traditionally a power like North Carolina or Duke? But going into that game, what was your mind-set? You all were young then, but to be seniors now and juniors and to go into this game, what do you remember back then going into that one?
TASMIN MITCHELL: Well, we remember we were just in the locker room all together. Like give it all we've got. All we got. We're all we got. You know. Everybody was against us and stuff like that. But we weren't worried about. We were like we're all we got, so we went out there with the mind frame like OK, they put their shoes on just like us. We're going to go out here and play ball and see who comes out with the victory in the end, and it was us. But that's how we're going to approach this game. We're coming out to play ball, play LSU basketball.
GARRETT TEMPLE: We didn't have anything to lose, just like this game. We understood the ball was going to have to be thrown up and we were going to have to start playing. We really believed that we had a chance to win the game. Being the underdog is a good thing. Nobody is pushing to win, the team might not be up for you as much, a lot of positives go with that. But we really prepare for the team real well. Duke, we had a whole week to prepare. This team is a little different, we only have a day, really, to prepare for them. But we're getting their tendencies, understanding what they do. What they like to do, what they don't like to do. Just go on out there with the mindset of winning. It's another game. Like you said, they put their clothes on just like we do. And they have been beaten before. They're not invincible, so just go out there and play.

Q. I'd like for each of you to take a minute to give me the reason you think you guys have had an outstanding season, and for the program it's been a remarkable turn around. I know that Coach Johnson, when he came in, said he wasn't going to demand anything of you, but he was going to ask you to do some stuff. Would each of you tell me why the regular season championship, why you were able to win it? Why you're here today? What is the reason you were so successful this year?
GARRETT TEMPLE: I think, yeah, you're right on with that. He said that from the start, he wasn't going to demand anything, he was just going to ask us to do stuff. Because we have so many seniors, the seniors really have to buy into what he was talking about. He came in and showed us right off the bat that he was about business, the first day he met with us.I think the discipline factor was the biggest thing. When he disciplined us, he earned our respect, we earned his respect. From then on we just started believing in what he said, and it's been working for us.
MARCUS THORNTON: The main thing was we bought into the system. We knew -- we didn't know what he was coming in to do, but as time went on we understood what he was bringing to the table. As seniors, it's our last go round, and we weren't trying to mess anything up. So we came together as a team and we bought into what he was trying to do. The main reason was nobody had their own agendas and personal goals. It was all team goals. That's the main reason we're here today.
TASMIN MITCHELL: To piggyback on what these guys said, we just bought into the system from day one. You know, we just came out. Like he said, he asked us, and we told him we'll do it. So it's all about the team chemistry. He brought the team chemistry together. That's what wins games, chemistry.

Q. Tyler Hansbrough, obviously, is a unique player. How have you guys talked to Chris, or what is the mood in the locker room with Chris and what he's going to have to do tomorrow to do whatever he can to slow him down?
TASMIN MITCHELL: Well, like you say, Tyler Hansbrough is a unique player. But like I said, we're just going to go out there and play defense like we try to do every game. We're not going to try nothing special on them. We're just going to help them. Just team defense. Team defense is going to win this game. I'm always going to say, he puts his clothes on just like we do. You know, we're just going to go out there and play defense.
MARCUS THORNTON: I don't think we should tell Chris anything. If he can't get up for this game, he doesn't need to be playing basketball, period (laughing). You know, like you said, Tyler Hansbrough is one of the greatest players in the conference today. If Chris can't step up to the plate like he needs to, he doesn't need to be playing. But I have faith in him. He stepped up big yesterday. He was a big part of our team yesterday, and I feel he'll do it again tomorrow. Q. You touched on Carolina's depth a little bit earlier. What can you guys do to combat that? They obviously go much deeper than you all do. And is it something that you're aware of out there? How do you combat their depth?
GARRETT TEMPLE: I mean the only way to combat depth is to have depth of your own, to be honest. But basically rest. We've got to get a lot of rest. During the game that is another reason we might try to slow the game down a little bit. Maybe stay on the offensive side a little more, little longer than usual just so they won't be able to run out on us. We can slow the game down. That's the only way to combat depth without depth of your own. So hopefully we can slow the game down.

Q. To any of you, you've talked about how this is going to be a road game atmosphere. You lost to Utah and Alabama back-to-back early in the season. After that y'all played pretty well on the road. What did you learn from that early season experience, and how confident are you when you go to opposing campuses now?
GARRETT TEMPLE: We learned that fans can be a big part of the game. After Alabama, we came out and also understood that they can play the game. We learned how to block that out. We had a couple of road wins and at Rupp. They're a hostile crowd over there. We just learned if we stay together we believe in what we can do as a team, then anything can happen.

Q. Do you think you're going to guard Hansbrough a little bit, too, like you did Ogilvie and Howard? And Tas, and Garrett, you think fewer people think y'all are going to win this game? Some people were picking you to beat Duke a couple years ago?
TASMIN MITCHELL: I don't know what Coach will allow us to do. He's going to give Chris the benefit of the doubt. He'll give Chris a chance. If things don't go right he'll probably put me on him. But coach never really puts me on on post player that's really like scoring, because he thinks about situations and stuff like that. But I wouldn't mind guarding him. It really wouldn't matter to me. But, a lot of people did have us beat. A few people had us beating Duke, but a lot of people had us losing to them, too. So it doesn't matter, it was all about us.
GARRETT TEMPLE: Like he said, it's all about us. People did have us beating Duke more so than North Carolina. But those people are not putting on LSU uniforms, so it really doesn't matter what they think.

COACH TRENT JOHNSON: Well, excited to still be playing. Going into the year, there are three things that we really thought we needed to improve on to be a pretty good basketball team to compete at a high level. One of them was transition defense. Another was rebounding and taking care of the ball. So we took 52 shots versus Butler, Carolina took 44 at the half. So I think our transition defense is going to be tested really good come Saturday evening.

Q. Tyler Hansbrough is a very unique player. What kind of challenges does he provide to you? Is there anybody in SEC play that kind of compares to the offensive skills he brings to the table? COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think there is a comparison. The kid at Kentucky, Patterson is strong and really physical. But Tyler reminds me of a guy when I was an assistant coach at Stanford by the name of Mark Massey. What I mean by that is he's relentless. His effort is there for 40 minutes. He's a special player. But they have a lot of other special basketball players on that team. For us, we need to make him work for everything he gets. We need to make sure we concentrate and get him a man, to half down, and cover down off the post and don't give him good angles to the basket. If we do, he can really dominate the game.

Q. You talked about transition defense, how much does it affect their ability to get out and push tempo, depending on whether Lawson is playing or not? And has it affected or made it a little more difficult to prepare for them not knowing what his status is?
COACH JOHNSON: No, we're preparing like he's going to play. In terms of our team and our defensive transition, we played against some extremely quick teams in our league. This is my first year through the SEC. And one of the things that I was thoroughly impressed with is the quickness from 1 through 12 on the roster. There's a lot of teams in our league that play extremely fast. So I think it's a situation where with our basketball team where there is nothing that we're not prepared for. There's nothing we haven't seen. Obviously, Carolina poses a lot of problems because of their skill level and talent level. But Bobby Frasor, the Drew kid, they're more than capable.

Q. Chris, obviously, is accustomed to playing folks bigger than he from a weight standpoint. How at 210 pounds has he compensated for that and become a defensive presence in the post for you folks?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, Chris does a good job of using his length. Also, there's a balance. You go from Chris Johnson to bring in Quinton Thornton off the bench who is physical, and about 6' 9.5, 240. So Chris is who he is. Offensively I need to do a better job of putting him in situations so he can make the guys who are going at him, he can go at them on offensively off the bounce or even in the post. So he does a very good job of altering shots. He does a very good job of working to the best of his ability.

Q. Could you talk about the leadership role that Garrett brings? And also, he said a few minutes earlier, he didn't find it particularly important that he is a Final Four guy. Just as a coach whether that means anything to you to have a couple of those guys?
COACH JOHNSON: I think it means a lot from the standpoint of Garrett is probably from every aspect of being a human being, socially, academically, athletically, he's special. You know kids use that term loosely about being real. Garrett Temple is real. There's not a phoney or false bone in his body. So his leadership on and off the floor is very genuine. It's been very good for us. It's been very good for me. Tasmin Mitchell is not as vocal as Garrett is at times, but he leads by example. So having those two guys who have been through their share of the wars, in terms of being to the Final Four, been through some ups and downs, some wins, some losses. There's no question that's helped this basketball team. There's no question it's helped us as a staff.

Q. You're a voracious consumer of game tape, as you watch tape on UNC, has any team given you as much to think about or consider as the Tar Heels have given how much depth and how many different things they have going offensively?
COACH JOHNSON: Yeah, Butler. They're all the same to me (laughing). No, honestly, again, there's a challenge in front of us. Nobody respects what Carolina basketball is about and what Coach Williams has done with this basketball team more than me. But I've always been one to consume myself and concern myself with our strengths and our weaknesses and how we can attack if we can attack our next opponent. So I try to keep myself in a position where I'm on on an even keel, and it is competition. For us going into Saturday much like it was coming into Butler's basketball game or before that it was Mississippi State. It is a game that's going to be decided on the floor. We need to compete at a high level and do the best we can. If we're good enough we'll be successful. If we're not, we won't.

Q. Garrett Temple was talking a moment ago he said the best way to combat their depth is, because you guys won't have as much, is to play an on opposite style. Which is to slow the ball down like Butler tried to do yesterday. Do you think that's the best way to approach this Carolina team that loves to run up and down the court and score with 15 seconds to go on the shot clock? Maybe slow it down? Or do you stick with what you've done?
COACH JOHNSON: No, we're going to come out tomorrow, and we're going to run like hell (smiling). We're going to try to do the things we've done all year, honestly. The thing I like about our group is we've shown at Tennessee against good teams and skilled teams and talented and well-coached teams. To understand that if we get caught up stepping out of our character and our box we're going to struggle. So obviously, Saturday if we do a good job once we're in the half court getting the ball to people in certain situations to score, and we have to sprint back defensively to try to keep it in front of us. So we're going to try to do those kind of things and that's what we've been successful with all year long. But we haven't played Carolina all year long.

Q. What is the biggest upset you've been involved with as a coach or assistant coach or maybe player that you won?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I'd have to go back to my sophomore B-team I coached when I got my first coaching job. We were 1-19, and we beat a team by the name of Capitol High. That might have been the biggest one. Because I didn't think we were going to win. That was my first coaching job. True story. I'm just telling the truth.

Q. Anything in the NCAA Tournament?
COACH JOHNSON: No, no, no.

Q. Your players said that they immediately bought into your philosophy and that you came in and you showed right away that you meant business. How did you do that without demanding and just by asking?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, again, they're good kids who are good people and good players. For me, trust is a two-way street. I've never been contrary to what people believe. I'm not some big old tough guy. I think you've got to earn their respect, and they've got to earn mine. There are some talented players and we had some good leadership. All I've ever asked is we stay the course, I think we'll have a chance to be successful if we do three things. That's pretty much been it. We had to clean up some things academically, and we're not there where we need to be. There were some bad habits and all those kind of things. But kids have a tendency to follow, if you're consistent, whatever your behavior may be, whatever your leader your staff in terms of that. So they have a tendency to say, okay, well, gosh, that's how he is. He doesn't sleep, he doesn't talk much, this is what he does. He's a grinder, so that's what we've been doing. We've been grinding.

Q. You touched on it a little bit in the answer to that question. We can probably have a long conversation about this, but in the time allotted, was there similarities to the playing you started with in Nevada, what you did at Stanford, and now what you're doing at LSU? Or were there any differences in the three assignments?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, yeah, there were differences because the Nevada situation was really rock bottom, and the cupboard was bare so to speak. Stanford had a basketball tradition and a lot of winning and those guys were familiar for me. And everybody knows what was here at LSU. But the three common denominators were Kirk Snyder who was a WAC player in year 04. Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez. Brook Lopez was the runner-up to the Pac-10 Player of the Year last year, and then Marcus Thornton. So the bottom line is players. The bottom line is players. It's not Trent Johnson, believe me. Because we were running the same stuff we were now when we were 9-20 my first year in Nevada and it didn't work. So you better have some guys that can make baskets and make plays.

Q. Is it fair that North Carolina has such a home-court advantage in a tournament that's supposed to be a neutral site?
COACH JOHNSON: Yeah, they've earned it. They've been one of the most dominant teams in college basketball throughout the year, so I think they need to be rewarded. Again, again, good teams, good players, regardless where they play, who they play, when they play, they're capable of playing and competing. There will be 20 thousand plus people here I guess cheering for Carolina. We'll have our faithful, but that's not going to be the difference in the game. The difference in the game is going to be Ellington and Hansbrough and how we offset this or that. So the players are going to decide the game. Again, I said it earlier, our guys have been in Lexington, and Kentucky travels well, Arkansas, those are tough places to play. So on and so forth, so we've been to our share of tough venues.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

LSU should be way ahead

GREENSBORO, N.C. - At times it looked like the Tigers were going to blow Butler out of the gym Thursday morning in the first game of the NCAA Tournament, but the Bulldogs were within 35-29 at halftime on a 3-pointer by Gordon Hayward with three seconds to play.

LSU was faster, bigger and overall more athletic and led by as many as 11 at 29-18 with 3:58 left on a pair of Marcus Thornton free throws.

For those tuning in across the country for the opening minutes of play in the NCAA Tournament at 11:20 a.m., LSU put on an excellent showing. Bo Spencer hit a 3-pointer 16 seconds into March Madness, and just 1:40 into the game the Tigers enjoyed a 9-0 lead after Marcus Thornton stole and drove for a layup. LSU threatened to bust it open near the 10-minute mark, but it twice missed easy layups that would have put it up 19-8. Butler instead hung close and got within 15-11 with 8:43 to go on a 3-pointer by Hayward.

Thornton led LSU with 13 points and Tasmin Mitchell had 10 as LSU's cold shooting spell of the last several games appeared over. Thornton was 4 of 7 from the field, while Mitchell was a deadly 5 of 7 from some difficult angles on his jumper. Thornton also had three steals as Butler players seemed to be not used to seeing someone with his speed and reach.

If LSU can play a little smarter, it should win easily by 12 or more.

Good morning from Greensboro

GREENSBORO, N.C. - LSU will be the first team to tip off the NCAA Tournament in just about one hour from now when it plays Butler in the first round of the South Regional at Greensboro Coliseum at 11:20 a.m. central time on CBS.

The Syracuse-Stephen F. Austin game starts five minutes earlier at 11:15 a.m., but that's on FRIDAY, not on Thursday as reported by me in some Gannett Louisiana papers today. And we have our first turnover of the tournament.

LSU is warming up now, running short sprints and shooting. Butler just took the court to do the same thing.

Many in the Research Triangle are much concerned with the right big toe of North Carolina junior guard Ty Lawson, who is not expected to play today in the second game here between the No. 1 seeded Tar Heels and No. 16 seed Radford that starts 30 minutes after the LSU game.

Lawson is averaging 15.9 points and 6.5 assists a game for North Carolina.

"There is a huge, huge probability that Ty will not play," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Thursday.

That's so he can be ready for the LSU-Butler winner on Saturday. That game will most likely start at 4:45 p.m. central time Saturday on CBS, according to LSU basketball spokesman Kent Lowe. There is a slight chance that game could tip off at about 7:15 p.m. if CBS decides to move things around for better viewership.

LSU has not played North Carolina since a 67-48 loss right here at the Greensboro Coliseum on Dec. 18, 1996. The Tar Heels lead that series, 9-2.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Obama picks Butler

Normally, I'd ignore a president's NCAA Tournament bracket. But when the president grew up playing ball and his brother-in-law is a coach in the Pac-10 (Oregon State's Craig Robinson), I'll acknowledge Barack Obama's bracket.

For LSU fans, bad news. Obama picks Butler.

Don't feel bad, though, Of the three SEC teams in the tournament, only Tennessee gets a nod from the president. He has the Vols beating Oklahoma State and losing in the second round. He has Mississippi State losing to Washington.

Actually, I think those picks are the same as mine. Anyway, he made his picks and you can see them at ESPN.com

What they said

Here is a transcript from LSU's press conference today in Greensboro, N.C., for the basketball tournament game on Thursday.

Q. The SEC only got three bids. I think you're the highest seeded team at 8. The conference got a lot of criticism all year. I was just wondering how good do y'all think the conference is this year? And do you feel in a sense you're representing the SEC because of all the press you've received?
TASMIN MITCHELL: Well, the whole season, you know, like I said, the SEC has been kind of down as far as teams that have been ranked in the top 25 and stuff like that. And we were on the team ranked. We do feel a lack of disrespect. But we're not going to talk about that. We're just all here to play ball. We're here at the NCAA Tournament, and we're very excited.
GARRETT TEMPLE: Like Tas said, you know, we were the only team toward the end of the season to be ranked. You know, whether it was strength of schedule or what, but the SEC just wasn't the old SEC this year. We went 13-3 in the SEC, so we did pretty good in terms of against our SEC foes. But the 8 seed wasn't expected, but it is what it is. And, you know, to get what you want to get in the NCAA Tournament. You've got to beat some good teams whatever seed you are. We're just ready to toss the ball up like Tas said, and play great tomorrow.
MARCUS THORNTON: Coming into the season like Tas said, coming into the season, everybody put the SEC to beat down. As far as the player in the SEC, you had to come out and play every night. You know, because any team could be beaten on any given night. Like Garrett said, I'm just happy to be here, and ready to throw the ball up.

Q: I don't know if you watched tape of Butler or what your coach has told you. But some teams have a little, it's awkward to prepare for Butler sometimes because of some of the things they do are unconventional. But would you comment a little on what some of the things that Butler does? If it's peculiar from what you're seeing, or if it resembles maybe what Florida and Mississippi State do a little bit?
TASMIN MITCHELL: From watching tape on them, they're talented. They play on a team of freshmen and sophomores. But, you know, they just run their offense. They run their offense. They're a very patient team. You know, they stay poised and guard them on the defensive end. But they've got to come back on the other end and guard us.
GARRETT TEMPLE: Like Tas said, they're a very impatient team. And I think we can go with the Washington State team that we played earlier in the year. In terms of we have to be patient on defense, and not gamble as much because they take their time. But also the way they have the four it's similar to Mississippi State. And they have guys that can shoot the ball. Their second tallest guy in Hayward can shoot the three. Ravern Johnson was a guy from Mississippi State who can shoot the three. So they're a guard-oriented team, but Matt Howard is the stud in the middle also. So it's going to be a great game to play.
MARCUS THORNTON: Like Garrett said, they're kind of like a Washington State. You know, they're patient in their offense. They don't take quick shots, bad shots, you know. They do what the coach says. Just like every other team we played this year, we can't take them lightly. They wouldn't be here if they weren't good, so we have to take them like we played everybody else and try to win the game.

Q. This is for Garrett as part of that first question, do you feel like LSU is representing the SEC in any respect because of the disrespect they showed y'all?
GARRETT TEMPLE: I mean, I feel like we were representing the SEC whether we had six teams, seven teams or two teams. Or if we're the only team because we're LSU and we're from the SEC. Us being the highest seed in the SEC, I don't think that has anything to do with it. I think Mississippi State is representing the SEC just like we are, as is Tennessee. You know, we're over the disrespecting thing. We're just ready to play ball. We're going to have to play, like I said, play good teams and beat good teams to get where we want to go in the NCAA Tournament. Our path might just be a little bit difficult at the beginning also.

Q. Last stretch of the season there things just haven't really gone your way. You kind of lost the Mojo there. Do you feel there's anything you can do that you can kind of get that back? Have you guys sensed getting that Mojo back?
MARCUS THORNTON: At the end of the season all the guys say they got complacent. You know, after we clinched the SEC, you know, people just got happy because we did that, wasn't worried about the games that we have remaining. But we knew we were going to start at practice today from the Mojo thing you're talking about. You know, that's the way it started at the beginning of the year. You know, grinding through the SEC, and we're just trying to get it back for the NCAA Tournament.
GARRETT TEMPLE: Like Marcus said, unfortunately, I think we got a little complacent clinching the SEC. But I think we were during that season we were hungry, trying to earn respect in the SEC and throughout the nation. And, you know, we have another reason to be hungry now. It's a one-game elimination. If you can't get up for this game, if you can't gain your Mojo back and find your Mojo for this game, you're in the wrong business.
TASMIN MITCHELL: Piggy back off what these guys said. We got lackadaisical at the end of the season. Lost three of our last four. But, you know, we've got to try to gain that back and have the same hunger that we had at the beginning of the season to get respect. But like Garrett said, nothing about the disrespect, it's about coming out here in this NCAA Tournament. Anybody that knows anything can happen. So we're just out here playing ball, getting our Mojo back.

Q: Y'all had a few off-shooting nights in a row here, do you think you're due to snap out of that as a team? And how much of the shooting is just sometimes you're hot, sometimes you're not? MARCUS THORNTON: You said it. In the game of basketball you know everything's not going to go the way you plan every game. Because if so, everybody would be the best. So, like I said, we've got to snap out of it a little bit. Get some shots, get a good feel for the area and the arena, and try to come out Thursday and make something happen.

Q: Tasmin, if you could take me back to 2006 your freshman year when you made it to the tournament back to the Final Four, back then, did you think that could be an every-year thing for LSU? And secondly, with everything you've been through since then, the injury and the rough couple of seasons the past two years, how has that changed and made you stronger? TASMIN MITCHELL: Yes, without a doubt, you know. Every team going into the season thinking they can make it to the Final Four, especially if we made it the year before that. So I was thinking that we can make it. The sky's the limit for the team. You know, as the season's played out, it didn't go as planned. But, yeah, you know, their run to the Final Four was unbelievable. Me and Garrett sit back and talk about it. We talk about it all the time. You know, remember it was like this, remember that, remember that game. But you know what I'm saying, that's over with. We've got to try to get back to what we were. But two years after that, you know, we kind of really, really dropped the ball. We really proved to teams that, OK, LSU is not the same as 2006. My injury made me stronger because it allowed me to see things not from being a coach, but from a coaching perspective. Like what I needed to do. I think it made my game stronger, you know, and some things in a lot of aspects. So the injury was, you know, it was almost a blessing from God because it just allowed me to come back and play with these guys and get back to what we were.

Q: In 2006, Darrel Mitchell was a guy that loved to take that big shot. When you look at Marcus's game, is it kind of similar to Darrel now that he likes and relishes that big shot? He's a guy that can knock down a lot of points for you? And Marcus, can you comment on wanting that big shot at crunch time?
GARRETT TEMPLE: Yeah, we saw that when we went to Maui last year. Tas played the first game, two games. But Marcus had a couple of big threes to send it into overtime. And at Auburn he hit a big three to win the game. So you have a guy like Marcus Thornton that can shoot the ball and almost 25, 26, 27 feet. You expect it to go in. And he had that confidence in himself. The team had the confidence in him for him to make that shot. You know, he's also the guy, if he's not open, he's going to pass it, use him as a decoy. But I do see a little bit of Darrel Mitchell in him. When he got here, I said he's a 6- Darrel Mitchell. Darrel used to hit that big shot hopefully. Hopefully we won't have to make a big shot. But if we do, I have confidence that if he's shooting it, it will go in.
TASMIN MITCHELL: It's hard to replace a Darrel Mitchell. He was a great leader, great point guard, stuff like that. But Marcus is in a category of his own. I think so. He's one of the greatest scorers I've ever seen. He's always up for the big shot. You know, his game has become complete, and, you know, we put the ball in his hands at the end of the game.
MARCUS THORNTON: Just to comment on that. It all comes from these guys having confidence and being able to know that I can make the shot or whatever. Like Garrett said, it's not just making the shot if people are guarding me too tight. You know, one of these guys are open, I'm going to get it to him, and I have enough confidence to know they'll make the shot.So it all goes back, you know, to the team. You need all your team players to win the game and have confidence in them. That's how we got here.

Q: Which one of you guys will guard Hayward? I guess I'm asking it to all of you guys. Just talk a little about the problems, a guy that's as versatile as him can cause?
GARRETT TEMPLE: I think I'm going to be guarding Hayward, Gordon Hayward, I think his name is. He's a very tall freshman that can shoot the ball, about 6-7, 6-8, but also has a lot of basketball skill in that he can dribble the ball, pass the ball. So, I mean, he's a very mature freshman. It's going to be tough because of his length and not because of the offense they run. But I've had to guard, you know, great players a long time. So, you know, with my teammates here playing great team defense is going to be the biggest thing. That is the biggest thing about guarding a guy that can score the ball is team defense.

COACH TRENT JOHNSON: Boy, the LSU Tigers are excited to have an opportunity to play. We're looking forward to competing against a very, very well coached and very good Butler team tomorrow morning. And it is morning for some of us.

Q: A lot has been made about the comparison between a veteran team featuring a lot of seniors and the fourth year junior as opposed to a freshman and sophomore team. Do you put any stock into those comparisons?
COACH JOHNSON: No, none whatsoever. Butler has a basketball team that defies their age. They're very mature for their age, they're very skilled and they're very good. With the amount of players that they play in the summer whether they're coming out of high school or still in college. Experience doesn't mean a thing at this time of the year.It's about your ability to play, and concentrate and do the things you've been doing all year long. Not to mention the fact they have a rich basketball tradition of postseason experience, and being consistent in having that postseason experience.

Q: Butler does a few unconventional things offense and defense. Are they particularly awkward to prepare for for a coach and a team? Or is it not that much different from preparing for Florida or Mississippi State or Washington State?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I don't know what you mean by unconventional. I have the utmost respect for teams that play like they play. And I want to single out one player, though they have a good, balanced group, of very good basketball players. Matt Howard in a 35-second shot clock possession set the back screen, the on-ball screen, will seal his man. Will go inside to him in the post and go back out, and will not let him score. That's how he impacts one position. They have a bunch of guys that that are capable of doing that. So when you talk unconventional, any coach in America will say Butler University under Coach Stevens leadership are playing a game we all want to play. That is maximizing their ability.

Q: Earlier the players were asked about the word was used Mojo. I would say getting their confidence and their swagger back. And they talked about that with some eloquence. What has the coaching staff done to recapture what might have been lost over the last three, four games of the season with respect to swagger and confidence from your team?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, again, I've said this for some of the local guys who cover me. That is this group of guys being hard on themselves. When we went into this year, we knew that we were going to have to do three things really well with a sense of urgency. Defend, rebound, take care of the ball, and offensively shots were going to come.We've lost three out of four games to people who have been better on a given afternoon, better on that day. Our margin of error has always been slim. When we won seven games in a row, the ball was going down for us. So, again, it's my responsibility to get them just to relax and understand that, hey, look, nothing's wrong. Yeah, we've lost three out of four, but it's not because of what we haven't been doing, other than the fact that the ball hasn't been going down. We've defended pretty well, rebounded pretty well. Everybody you're playing at this time of the year is good. And so that happens.

Q: Two questions, Marcus Thornton, I know it's not an individual team, but he seems like a guy that's always willing to take that big shot for your basketball team. And a lot of times he knocks it down. Second, Butler's offense, is it a good matchup for your team in terms of your defense? Because there are no 6-10, 6-11" guys. It's mainly a perimeter team?
COACH JOHNSON: To answer the first question. Marcus has taken shots down the stretch during the framework of our offense and our system. And his percentages along with Tasmin Mitchell's percentages in late clock situations are pretty good. So we have to go to them. They're our two best players offensively. In terms of a matchup, I mean, this game is predicated off quickness and mental toughness and skill sets and skill ability. So being 6-11, 6-10, 7-foot has nothing to do with it. It's your ability to be a basketball player and play above the rim or below the rim.I've been in situations where I've had guys that are two seven footers and we played a Texas team in the Sweet 16 last year, and got eliminated and their tallest guy was 6-6. So the bottom line is teams and players individually doing what they've done all year long to get to this point and not stepping outside the box or stepping outside their character.

Q: In the overall scheme of things, how important do you think seeding is? Obviously 1-8 is a big difference. But is there that much difference between being 6 and an 8?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, for me, and I've said this and feel this way, I don't think it's a big deal. I really don't. You know, players and other coaches who know a heck of a lot more than I do will say so. But for our basketball team which is the one point now, if we were a 3 seed or 4 seed or 5 seed or I should say 4 seed on up, the level of team that we're going to play against is going to be very capable and can beat us if we're not right. Now if you're talking about a 1 seed, which we're not worthy of that. This team is not worthy of a 2 seed or 3 or a 4. So that's how our team looks at it. So, no, it doesn't matter. It's about matchups at this time of the year. And there is so much parity in college basketball with the exception of maybe six or seven teams, and we're not one of them, that you need to be ready to do the things you've done all year long. So the answer to the question, the seeding and competition and being ready to play is everything to this guy.

Q: You mentioned Matt Howard a little bit. But I imagine you've watched their film, and I was wondering if you could comment on the energy and how hard that kid plays every time he's on the court in both directions?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, he plays no harder and with no more energy than anybody that steps on the floor for Butler. And that's what you respect. Those kids are always ready to play. And they know how to play. You know, I have a group just very similar in that regard.I can honestly sit up here and tell you going into every game this year, this group that I've been fortunate enough to coach this year has always been ready to play. They competed from start to finish. And if there's a loose ball we'd be the first ones on our way to get it. So this 8-9 game will be a game that if both teams play to their capability, it should be a very, very good basketball game.

Q: You alluded to the matchup situations, and this time of the year. What about Butler is a tough thing to matchup with?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think what's tough about Butler is it takes principles, and what I mean by that is you have to be patient, you have to have a level of discipline because going down on the other end offensively, they're going to take good shots. They don't take bad shots. So, you know, again, are there going to be any loose possessions in this game if you're guarding them? No. They'll be very position and detail oriented. And defensively they force you to take bad shots, so we're going to have to be disciplined in our offensive approach and take good shots.This was a team that was to me very similar to the likes of a Washington State. But probably a better basketball team than Washington State is with no question in terms of how they approach the game.

Q: I'm covering a Bearcats team that has a lot of newcomers to this tournament. I was wondering if you could reflect back on your first trip as a head coach to a tournament, and what that experience and challenge was like to you?
COACH JOHNSON: I can't even remember yesterday, you want me to go back to 2004? Well, again, I've always tried to -- is to stay grounded. Stay on an even keel. All I can tell you is in '04, I didn't have enough time to really enjoy it. Because we had to win likes six games in a row, and the team to win the WAC championship, and the next thing you know you're getting ready to go to Seattle to play a Michigan State team. So it was more of a different scenario in terms of me being able to enjoy it and sharing experiences as opposed to getting guys to understand that you have to be ready to play. And it's still just a game. The game's going to be decided on the floor. You know, this time of the year, everything's going on outside of you, the excitement and all of that is fine. And it's great. But you still have to at some point settle down and play the game. So that's all I've tried to do and relate to the guys. We have fun. I have fun with them. But to go back and reflect on '04 is pretty hard. Because we were under the grind. We didn't have anything sewed up until -- actually, we got beat by Georgia Tech, and it was like oh, wow, this is what we've accomplished the last month and a half. So.

Q: In your years of coaching in the NCAA Tournament, is there one overriding thing that you've learned about the difference between it and the regular season that you have used? Anything that you say to your teams? Any tactics you use? Something that you've learned from playing in the tournament that helps you to be successful?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, yeah. To me it's always been pretty simple but yet so hard to do. You have to do the things you've done all year long to get to this point. Some way, somehow, guys have to enjoy it. But you still have to compete at a high level. And just stay and concentrate the best you can. And it's hard. It really is hard for kids. You know, you look at it, it's probably going to be one team that's going to walk away from it that's going to be happy. I don't care what anybody says. There's going to be one team that walks away that are going to be happy. But there are 65 teams that got themselves in a situation that they have a lot to be thankful for when it's all said and done.

Q: Just wondering in the year that you've been here, what kind of leadership qualities have you seen from Tasmin? And do you have any specific examples of things he's said or done to take a leadership role with the team?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, Tasmin is number one, he's a man. He's not very vocal. But it's all been by example. Very inspirational. He has not missed a day since I've gotten here. Whether it's an individual workout, in the weight room or in practice. And when you stop and you look at it, you know, playing against sometimes in the position we put him in against 6-9, 6-10 and sometimes being on the perimeter chasing around guys that are 6-4, that's huge. You know, he's probably one of the more enjoyable men that I've had an opportunity to coach in a short period of time. And I'm hard on the guys, but, you know, he's especially a young man. I think the people in Baton Rouge understand that, because they get a chance to see him and be around him a lot. He's more of an example guy from a leadership standpoint, and some other guys are more vocal, ala Garrett Temple and so on and so forth.

Q: How late were you in the office Sunday night? What time did you leave?
COACH JOHNSON: On oh, on national TV you would ask me that question. I got my usual two hours of sleep. See these big bags under the eyes, they're good.

Q: What do you think it is that makes Garrett Temple such a good defensive player on a variety of players?
COACH JOHNSON: I think it's the understanding of the game. Obviously he's an older guy, he's been around. He's not the best of athletes. He's not the biggest and strongest guy, so he's a student of the game. But all that being said, I think he's got a unique matchup coming up tomorrow, because he's a young man that he's going to be guarding is very, very special in terms of his ability to make plays off the dribble and off the bounce. Like a lot of guys on this basketball team. And again, I just have been very impressed with Butler as a team. I mean, you need to go back no further than Xavier gets beat by Duke handily, and Xavier's next home game is against Butler. And Butler goes in there and beats them very precision and very efficient. So we're looking forward to it, and excited about the challenge that's in front of us.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

LSU to get CBS' 'A' team

After rarely playing on the big stage this year, the LSU Tigers will get a big one on Thursday when the NCAA Tournament begins.

The Tigers will tip off the tournament -- don't give me that play-in game nonsense -- at 11:20 a.m. against Butler on Thursday. CBS will have its No. 1 broadcast team -- Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg -- on the call. The first half hour or so of that game will be seen by the entire nation.

Not bad considering the Tigers' biggest regular season conference game of the season at Mississippi State was televised by no one.

Spring practice talk

Considering that spring football practices are mostly closed, you have to take what comes out of LSU with a grain of salt.

Apparently Les Miles likes what he is seeing on defense and from his new coaches. More importantly -- at least this is what LSU is telling us -- is that the players are buying into the new system.

“There’s a really strong enthusiasm there and I think the veterans are enjoying the installation and the approach,” Miles said. “The (coaching) hires have been good. You look at some guys who are prospering like Chad Jones, who is making a heck of a difference in the center of our secondary.

“There’s more emphasis on one-on-one. Patrick Peterson is ready to play at a different level. I think the secondary, being veteran, is ready to take some steps and play excellent. They will be something special.”

I agree with Miles on Peterson. I thought he played admirably as a freshman last year. And I think he can be a really good cover corner in the future.

Really, there is nowhere but up to go for the defense after all of the struggles of a year ago.

Also, fullback Stevan Ridley is done for the spring with a knee injury but is expected back for fall practice. You may recall that fullback is a position where LSU is looking for a new starter.

That's a wrap

Well, at least one good thing came with Bryce Brown's decision to sign with Tennessee -- at least you can put a wrap on the 2009 recruiting class.

Look would it have been a good signing if LSU had gotten Brown? Sure, you always want top-of-the-line talent. But, if LSU learned anything from the Ryan Perrilloux saga, sometimes talent isn't the only consideration.

So looking back on the class -- LSU got the player it needed most in wide receiver Rueben Randle. He is a big-time playmaker at a position where LSU needed help. Quarterback Russell Shepard also was huge a signing. And you can find highly recruited players across the board in this class.

The late misses -- particulary those to Tennessee (Janzen Jackson and Brown) may hurt. But football is unlike basketball in that one or two players generally don't get you over the top the way they do in basketball.

So all in all, it's a class that should get LSU back into college football's elite. It is not a perfect class, but then again few ever are.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Sorry, I have a hard time buying the story that LSU was somehow disrespected as an eight seed in the men's NCAA Tournament.

Yes, I know it's the worst seed for an SEC regular season champion. But the SEC was down this year. And please tell me LSU's big win this season?

In fact, LSU probably could have been a much higher seed (four perhaps?) if the Tigers had ended the regular season and the SEC strong. Instead, they won one of their final four games.

Now, if LSU's players wanted to say it stinks because even if you win the first game you have to play the No. 1 seed in the second round, then I can understand it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


BATON ROUGE - LSU needs to do more shooting drills.
The Tigers shot below 40 percent for the fourth consecutive game Saturday afternoon and lost for the third time out of those four games, 67-57 to Mississippi State in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.
Tasmin Mitchell was 7 of 18 from the field for 38 percent. Marcus Thornton was 5 of 19 for 26 percent. Bo Spencer was 1 of 5 for 20 percent. Those are the Tigers' best offensive weapons, and they were all off. State did not shoot much better but dominated the inside as center Jarvis Varnado made LSU center Chris Johnson look bad as he scored 19 points with seven rebounds and seven blocked shots. Johnson scored two points.
Tired of hearing how bad the SEC is from national media. Well, the national media was proven right in this game. There was the pride of the SEC this season in a semifinal league tournament game, and the game was very hard to watch. State (22-12) beat the league champion, but unless it wins Sunday in the SEC tournament title game against the Auburn-Tennessee winner, it will be NIT bound.
LSU has not been able to buy a bucket for the most part since Mitchell hit a jumper to beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena back on Feb. 28. The defense has been very good. The rebounding has been very good. The game plans have been very good. LSU just needs to practice its outside shooting and practice it again.
The Tigers looked poor at times Saturday and anything but a champion of a major conference. But the NCAA Tournament has a way of washing all the refuse of a long, hard regular season away. Losing on Saturday could end up helping LSU very much.
Sure, it would have been exciting to watch the Tigers play in the SEC Tournament championship game on Sunday for the first time since 1993. Winning it would have been very impressive as well. LSU has never won the SEC regular season title and the tournament title in the same season. That would have been something. A banner's a banner, and there is room for more in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
But LSU is not a very deep team. A 1-1 showing in Tampa may be the best recipe for future success. Often, when you are the league champion already and already NCAA Tournament bound, it's better to win one game in the SEC Tournament, lose the next one, get out of town, get some rest, exhale, watch the NCAA Selecton Show and then start the real season - March Madness.
The last three times LSU reached the Final Four in 2006, 1986 and 1981, it went 1-1 in the SEC Tournament and moved on to bigger and better things. It did the same thing in 2000 when it last reached the NCAA Sweet 16, which is a reasonable goal this season. You work up a sweat and make a good showing with a win in that first game, then you get out of there and regroup.
It was 20 years ago, but I'll never forget Florida coach Norm Sloan whining about having to play in the SEC Tournament championship game in 1989 in Knoxville, Tenn. His team won the regular season and had the NCAA bid locked up, but it looked tired and it was getting injured as it won its first two SEC Tournament games. He obviously didn't feel like playing a third game in three days on Sunday. He didn't care about some trophy. And he lost the next day. And he lost by 22 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Colorado State.
"The silver lining in all this is we're going to get back, get a day and a half off and get ready for the NCAA Tournament," LSU coach Trent Johnson said after the loss.
LSU will be fresh again Thursday or Friday when it plays again, and it will not have to play a team it has already beaten twice this season. Everything will be new, and if LSU can stay away from teams with very good centers and get at least one guy shooting well a game, the Tigers could make some noise.
Get your brackets ready. Christmas is almost here.

Friday, March 13, 2009


LSU manhandled Kentucky 67-58 in the Southeastern Conference Tournament Friday afternoon and advanced to the semifinals at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.
The victory marked the first time the Tigers defeated the former traditional power in the same season since 1989. LSU won 73-70 at Kentucky during the regular season last month. The win also snapped LSU's four-game losing streak against the Wildcats in the SEC Tournament. The Tigers last beat Kentucky in this tournament in 1980 - 80-78 in the tournament championship game.
LSU (26-6) can reach the tournament championship game for just the third time after 1980 if it wins at noon Saturday against the winner of Friday's second game between Mississippi State and South Carolina. The SEC regular season champion Tigers beat State twice and South Carolina once during the regular season.
LSU's previous trips to the tournament final game were in 1993 when it lost to Kentucky 82-65 in 1993 in Lexington, Ky., and in 1987 when it lost 69-62 to Alabama in Atlanta. Kentucky beat LSU in the SEC Tournament in 2005, 1993, 1992 and 1986.
LSU guard Marcus Thornton played like the SEC player of the year that he is as he led all scorers with 21 points, including 13 in the first half as LSU took a 28-23 halftime lead and never really let Kentucky back into the game. Thornton scored 10 of LSU's first 15 points in the first seven minutes as the Tigers took a 15-7 lead and never trailed after 2-0 in the opening moments.
A 3-pointer by Thornton with 5:52 to play in the game gave the Tigers their biggest lead of the game at 58-44. A steal by Thornton on a Kentucky inbounds pass led to an assist from him to Tasmin Mitchell, who hit a 3-pointer for LSU's first double-digit lead of the game at 46-36 with 10:43 remaining.
Meanwhile, Thornton's challenger for SEC player of the year couldn't find a shot much less make many. LSU defensive ace Garrett Temple held Kentucky guard Jodie Meeks to a season-low eight points and five turnovers. He was 3 of 9 from the field and did not make a 3-pointer.
"I don't know why anybody should be surprised. Garrett's stopped his share of players while he's been at LSU," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "He did a really good job. It was a nice win for us. Obviously the rest benefited us a lot."
The Tigers broke a two-game losing streak that ended the regular season. They had five days off going into Friday's game.
Spencer finished with 16 for LSU, and Mitchell had 14. Patrick Patterson led Kentucky (20-13) with 15 points, and Ramon Harris had 11. The Wildcats are not expected to reach the NCAA Tournament as it has a 73 RPI.


BATON ROUGE - LSU guard Marcus Thornton played like the Southeastern Conference player of the year that he is in the early going Friday afternoon as he scored 13 points in the first half, leading the Tigers to a 28-23 halftime lead over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament in Tampa, Fla.
Thornton scored 10 of LSU's first 15 points as the Tigers took a 15-7 lead seven minutes into the game. A 3-pointer by Thornton kept LSU up 18-14 with 9:45 left in the first half. Point guard Bo Spencer followed with a 3-pointer off a Thornton assist for a 21-14 lead with 9:18 to go.
The Tigers were cold in the first half, though, shooting only 31 percent, which was LSU's problem in losing its last two SEC regular season games as the Tigers shot below 38 percent in those two games.
Kentucky climbed within 23-19 with 6:20 left on a layup by Jodie Meeks. LSU center Chris Johnson broke a five-minute field goal dryspell by the Tigers with a putback with 2:24 to go for a 26-21 LSU lead. Garrett Temple drove and hit a short jumper with 6.9 seconds left before the buzzer for the 28-23 lead.
The LSU-Kentucky winner will advance to the tournament semifinals at noon Saturday against the winner of the Mississippi State-South Carolina game, which is set to tip off at 2:15 p.m. today.
"Every shot is being contested," LSU coach Trent Johnson said. "We've got to slow down and set screens and be more patient."
Check back after the game for a complete report.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Lost weekend

This wasn't a great weekend to be an LSU fan.

The men's basketball team lost its second straight game since clinching the SEC championship by getting drilled at Auburn. A couple of quick thoughts on this one: 1) LSU had trouble with Auburn in Baton Rouge earlier this year before winning, so the outcome wasn't totally unexpected. 2) It's just human nature to let up after having won the conference. However, LSU has cost itself in the seeding process. Maybe LSU played over its head for a long time, I don't think the SEC Tournament is any great indication but the Tigers probably need to win at least a game to get some confidence back going.

The women's basketball team getting dumped in the semifinals by Vandy wasn't a shocker. LSU has done good to put together the run it had until that loss.

The baseball team dropping a series to Illinois, now that is sort of a shocker. I say "sort of'' because in baseball just about anything can happen in a three-game series. The shocker part is that LSU struggled to score runs in two games and just about blew out the scoreboard in another.

Regardless, LSU won't have to worry about being No. 1 ranked this week. And really, what does a national ranking in mid-March mean in college baseball anyway? Not much.

Still, this will at least give Paul Mainieri an opportunity to shore up some weaknesses prior to SEC play. And some of the Omaha talk can quiet down until it means something, say May.

Friday, March 06, 2009


So what now LSU Tigers?

After clinching the SEC title on Saturday at Kentucky, the thought was that LSU needed to keep winning to improve its NCAA Tournament seeding.

Then came a loss at home against Vanderbilt.

ESPN's Joe Lunardi wrote that "the unexpected home loss to Vanderbilt just about halts their seed momentum.''

Lunardi has the Tigers as a sixth seed and headed to Minneapolis to play an 11 seed, in his bracket, that would be Villanova.

Jerry Palm has even less confidence in LSU. He has the Tigers as a No. 7 seed, headed to Boston to play a 10th-seeded Oklahoma State team.

Even with LSU's blitz through the SEC, Palm writes at cbssports.com that, "Tennessee is now predicted to be the winner of the SEC tournament. On paper, there isn't a more wide-open conference tournament than the SEC. Vanderbilt could win it, and I wouldn't be surprised. I still think Tennessee is the best team, and in the last week-and-a-half or so, the Vols have finally started to play like it. Of course, now I've jinxed them. They'll probably lose to Alabama. ''

So if LSU needed any motivation for the final regular season game at Auburn and the SEC Tournament next week in Tampa, it is there. The Tigers' seeding tumbled from a possible four all the way to a six or seven in the minds of some and there are still some out there who think some other team is the best in the conference.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Tigers fare better than Jindal on national stage

BATON ROUGE - The LSU basketball team had a much better week on national television than did Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The Tigers defeated Florida on Mardi Gras night in prime time on ESPN and edged Kentucky in the Bluegrass on CBS on Saturday afternoon, pushing LSU from No. 18 in the Associated Press poll to No. 12.

Jindal, meanwhile, appeared on national television Tuesday night on other networks to counter President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress concerning his economic stimulus plan.

The first African-American men's basketball coach in LSU history, Trent Johnson, drew raves while the first Indian-American governor in the country blew his lead as the savior of the troubled Republican party.

Jindal looked more like a happy game show contestant than a serious answer to the economic crisis caused by many in his party as he curiously strolled up to the microphone to speak to the country from the Governor's Mansion. Trying to transform an extremely intellectual young man who is extremely quick on his feet into a warm and fuzzy friend backfired. His delivery at times was more reminiscent of Mister Rogers than that of Ronald Reagan, the last savior of the Republican Party.

Johnson is suddenly a national coach of the year candidate after taking a program that was not in nearly as poor shape as the country Obama took over from George W. Bush, but it was pretty bad. LSU was 30-33 overall and 11-21 in the Southeastern Conference in the two years prior to Johnson's arrival. He has LSU at 25-4 and 13-1, which is only the Tigers' best record at this point in a season since 1981 when LSU finished 31-5 and 17-1 and in the Final Four. On Monday Johnson was named as one of 10 finalists for the Jim Phelan national coach of the year award.

Jindal, like many football coaches after an off game or season, may be able to blame his coordinators, who for the most part have been below average and not ready for the job much like Les Miles' former defensive coordinators.

Jindal was inexplicably advised to speak slower before his Super Bowl moment. This was very bad game planning as speaking fast, thinking fast and acting fast are the trademarks of Jindal, whose handling of the hurricanes in Louisiana last summer was his administration's high point and dwarfed the pitiful efforts by the Republican-run national efforts of W and Brownie post-Katrina.

Jindal blew everyone away with his organization, preparation and action before, during and after the storms. He was always the smartest person in the room. He thought on his feet and showed innate knowledge of everything hurricane down to how many dogs they saved on a given day. There wasn't enough time for his coordinators to overprepare and mess things up as was the case leading up to Mardi Gras night.

Why make your guy speak slower to a national audience when the fast talking approach worked in Louisiana? I could see him speaking slower when he's in, say Bunkie, than in the living rooms of New York City!

People in the northeast and midwest and population centers like New York City and Chicago tend to prefer the fast approach. Such a strategy was akin to letting Jarrett Lee pass against Alabama.

It's sad to know that the coaches at LSU have more seasoned media handlers than does the governor.

Do what Miles did, Bobby. Make some staff changes before it's too late. It's not like you're going to keep them anyway after you move to D.C.