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LSU’s offense is built to give Mizzou fits

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Missouri and LSU tip off at 1 p.m. CT (ESPN2) in Baton Rouge.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday, we took a look at the impressive job Will Wade has done at LSU this season. Now let’s take a look at the matchups that will decide today’s game.

The Scout

Tempo | A recurring theme over 26 games has been Mizzou’s struggle to value the basketball. Quietly, though, the Tigers tightened the grip, turning the ball over on just 15.4 percent of their possessions during their last three outings.

That progress needs to be durable on Saturday. No, LSU’s tempo — checking in at 183rd in KenPom — isn’t blistering. But Will Wade’s crew owns one of the best transition offenses in the country, second behind only Villanova among high-majors by generating 1.204 points per possession. Toss in the fact the Bayou Bengals force turnovers on 19.7 percent of SEC opponents’ possessions, and you can see why it’s crucial for the Tigers, which posted a gaudy 2.67 BCI score on Tuesday, to keep their clutches on the ball.

Tale of the Tape | LSU might rob Mizzou of possessions, but Cuonzo Martin’s squad can make them up by pounding LSU on the glass. Aaron Epps and Duop Reath hold their own, but the Tigers’ guards don’t do much to supplement their efforts. And if you find a way to get to the rim, Reath’s size isn’t a deterrent, considering LSU ranks 309th in the country for points allowed around the basket that aren’t direct post-ups on the block.

You can also find success attacking Wade’s defense with a side pick-and-roll and a pass out to a shooter camped on the weak side of the floor.

So, back to controlling tempo: make LSU guard in the half court, value the ball and go to the boards.

X-Factor // Transition Defense | By now, we know the opportunity cost of a Mizzou turnover is robbing its offense of a chance to score. Fortunately, the Tigers’ giveaways don’t prime the pump offensively for their foes, sitting at No. 43 nationally and third in the SEC for transition defense, per Synergy Sports. And while turnover prone, Martin’s team only finds itself scrambling to get back 11 times per game, only giving up a basket on 3.8 trips a night.

Not only can Tremont Waters push the ball for LSU, but so can wing Skylar Mays, while JUCO transfer Daryl Edwards and Brandon Sampson spot up on the wings as you scramble to match up. Put another way, hustling back shaves LSU’s offensive efficiency by 22.4 percent.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Alabama
Duop Reath
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Matchups | LSU runs a modified version of a dribble continuity offense — a mixture of dribble hand-offs, ball screens and dribble-drive motion — reliant on loops and patterns. As with Auburn, pulling up clips can give you basic patterns and sets, but its Wade’s personnel — namely the use of two point guards — that make it unique. Depending on whether Waters or Mays has the ball, the nature of LSU’s half-court system mutates.

On top of that, LSU can default to throwing the ball into the paint for Reath, who's also adept at passing out to spot-up shooters on the perimeter. Wade’s crew is most efficient operating out of high ball-screens and pick-and-rolls, but Edwards and Sampson provide enough outside shooting to go with Reap’s low-post skills.

  • PG: Tremont Waters vs. Kassius Robertson | The final minute of LSU’s win over Michigan put Waters on the radar and foreshadowed swiping Texas A&M’s soul last month. No, he’s not Trae Young or Trevon Duval, but Waters’ impact can’t be overstated. He fits perfectly what Wade likes to do, smoothly changing gears when attacking and showing poise while playing amongst the trees. His bread and butter: the high pick-and-roll. The direction Waters goes lets you divine his intentions. When he uses the pick, the freshman is prone to punish defenders ducking under by firing a mid-range jumper. Rejecting a pick, and working back to his right, hints at a drive that will end with a floater or whipping a pass to a spot-up shooter. Defensively, Waters has a healthy appetite for risk. While it can create turnovers — see the nation’s No. 29 steal rate — it also makes him the second worst defender (0.991 PPP allowed) among high-usage players in the SEC. Waters is still an undersized point guard, which can cause him fits when navigating coverages in side pick-and-rolls.
  • CG: Skylar Mays vs. Cullen VanLeer | A linchpin in Wade’s system is a second ballhandler who can launch a secondary attack on gaps after initial penetration. That’s Mays. When the sophomore puts the ball on the deck, it’s attacking a closeout off the wing or in a pick-and-roll, where’s slightly more efficient — on a PPP basis — than Waters. He also excels in transition, whether the ball is in in hands (1.22 PPP) or he’s darting down either side of the floor. Defensively, he also struggles in pick and rolls (1.069 PPP), with the ballhandler reaching the rim almost a third of the time especially on side P&R plays. But when he does generate a steal or get in transition he’s exceptional at leading the break (1.22 PPP).
  • WING: Daryl Edwards vs. Jordan Barnett | When Blakeney decamped for the NBA, Wade needed an SEC-ready shooter. So far, Edwards has filled the gap, averaging 1.25 PPP on spot-up jumpers. He’s cooled off during conference play, hitting just 33.3 percent of 3-point attempts, but he can still punish a defender who winds up two passes away. In non-conference play, he developed a reputation as a cooler, drawing an opponent’s hot hand. That’s changed over the past two months. A problem area: defending catch-and-shoots behind the 3-point arc. Or the worst flaw if tasked with tracking Barnett.
  • CF: Aaron Epps vs. Kevin Puryear | As a three-star recruit, Epps projected as a role player at best under Johnny Jones. Now, he’s found a home in LSU’s starting lineup as a jack of all trades. He can spot up, cut into voids created by dribble penetration, sink pick-and-pop jumpers and, at worst, subsist on offensive putbacks. He’s assertive on the defensive glass and provides stout rim protection, too. Now, Epps might be susceptible to driving the ball out spot-ups, and you can bully him a little bit on the low block. While Puryear has gotten the starting nod recently, the looming concern for LSU is when Jontay Porter trots to the scorer's table. Porter’s ability to play out of the mid-post and improved finishing through contact on the block might tip the scales toward Mizzou when Epps is on the floor.
  • POST: Duop Reath vs. Jeremiah Tilmon | Mizzou saw a version of Reath in non-conference play: UCF’s Tacko Fall. Their post-up rates mirror each other, and Reath is fifth among high-major players. What separates Reath: he’s good on either block and with either hand. On the left side, the senior goes left and hunts a hook shot, while he’ll deploy a drop step and power dribble operating on the right block. His footwork, ball fakes, and shoulder moves are immaculate, all of which helps him get high-quality shots to fuel a 58.3 2-point field-goal percentage. While he doesn’t earn trips to the foul line at a high rate, Reath still draws north 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes. While Tilmon has the size, and perhaps a slight edge in athleticism, Reath’s refinement could give MU’s freshman fits. Reath is an average post defender with a stellar block rate, but you can exploit him in pick-and-rolls. It’s easy to envision Mizzou starting in a four-flat set, running Tilmon to an on-ball screen with Robertson and seeing what happens. Does LSU duck too far under, letting Robertson launch a jumper? Or is Tilmon able to dive quickly down the lane?
NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Florida
Brandon Sampson
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Key Reserves

  • G: Brandon Sampson | A former top-50 recruit, the Baton Rouge native’s become a 3-and-D wing his first season under Wade. He only yields a 31.8 field-goal-percentage when he’s on the floor, including just a 27.8-percent clip from behind the 3-point arc. His shooting stroke has been more erratic in SEC play, but Sampson still has deep range balanced with the ability to finish on the break.

The Bottom Line

The structure and balance of LSU’s offense is enough to give Missouri fits, and Waters has clearly shown an ability to make plays in crucial key moments. And while Wade has tweaked his defense, pressing far less than he did with VCU, he’s still versed enough in the nuances of Havoc — a diamond press with circle traps — to apply pressure at a chokepoint.

Earlier in the week, Sam Snelling and I talked about how a win might look. To me, it’s a game that would flow similarly to what we saw against Ole Miss: MU values the ball, makes LSU execute in the half court, controls the glass and get reliable perimeter shooting. If it’s nip-and-tuck, I have a sense the scales tip toward LSU, which has a legitimate point guard and the ability to punish MU for a late dry spell.