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Previewing LSU: Tigers, Wolfpack meet to create maximum uncertainty

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Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

How to watch or listen to the game

Tip time: 9:20ish p.m. ET, Thursday, March 19

TV: TBS

Online streamingMarch Madness Live

Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network (affiliates)

The LSU offense and starters

LSU Offense -- Four Factors eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
Overall (National Rank) 50.5 (105) 20.5 (274) 34.0 (79) 33.4 (267)
In SEC Games (Conference Rank) 50.5 (3) 19.9 (10) 32.3 (8) 34.3 (11)


Since arriving at LSU, head coach Johnny Jones' biggest task has been rebuilding the offense, which bottomed out at 307th in 2011. In the three seasons prior to Jones' arrival, the Tigers finished no higher than 206th in offensive efficiency. It was not a great time to watch LSU basketball.

Jones is proving far more capable than his predecessor of constructing a successful attack, and while the Tigers are no where near elite at this end of the floor, their improvement into the top 75 is a development worth lauding. LSU's offense improved significantly in Jones' first season and has been better in each successive year.

Which leaves the 2015 team in the Dangerous But Not Terrifying category. LSU can be really good--in the Tigers' near-miss against Kentucky, they put up 1.08 points per possession, which stands as the second-best offensive performance against UK in 2015. (Only one Kentucky opponent has cracked 1.1 PPP. Kentucky is absurd.)

But the Tigers are only a middling three-point shooting team, and they don't take a lot of those. They can get themselves in trouble with turnovers, and they don't get to the free throw line very often. On their worst days, they've compounded poor shooting with poor ball security and an inability to draw fouls.

You struggle in three of the four factors and you're usually gonna be in trouble; that's the worry for the Tigers in any given game, with two obvious liabilities within a group that shoots an unremarkable percentage from the field.

LSU is fortunate to be up against an NC State defense that doesn't create turnovers, but setting that aside, the Tigers can find plenty of other ways to lose. It's a matter of which LSU team made the trip to Pittsburgh. (That sounds familiar.)

Starters

Josh Gray (6-1, 183) -- Gray spent his first college season at Texas Tech as a primary scoring option, and that ended badly. He made only 42.9% of his twos and 18.8% of his three-pointers. At LSU he's been more of a secondary scorer, though that's made little difference to his shooting accuracy. He's also only a 65% free throw shooter for his career. He has good steal and assist rates, but can be turnover-prone as well.

Keith Hornsby (6-4, 210) -- Did you know that Keith Hornsby's dad is-- I'm sorry, I'll stop. We all know already. Hornsby and NC State have history going back to his UNC-Asheville days; he dropped 23 points on NC State in a near-upset a few years back. He's been a capable three-point shooter throughout his career, and a dude who could easily knock down four or five in a single game. The Pack saw that firsthand.

Tim Quarterman (6-6, 187) -- Quarterman improved his efficiency a lot between 2014 and 2015 but remains a liability from beyond the arc. For his career, he's a 28.5% three-point shooter, which is not the kind of number you want to see from a guy taking about four threes per game. He's at 31.5% this season, putting him below average while also making him a little frightening in a one-and-done scenario. We know he's willing to take those shots, and if he happens to stumble into a good day, well... stuff happens, man.

Jordan Mickey (6-8, 235) -- He's not an efficient player at the offensive end, but he's a crucial part of LSU's defense because of his ability to alter shots. Mickey ranks 40th nationally with a block rate of 9.4% (BeeJay Anya's block rate is 14%) and averages one block for every 10 minutes of playing time. He's a decent scorer in the paint (52% on twos) and an excellent offensive rebounder as well. Turnovers are often a problem, however.

Jarell Martin (6-10, 235) -- Martin presents an interesting matchup because of his willingness to step outside. He's attempted 132 three-pointers in two college seasons, though he's only made 31.1% of those. This is another one of LSU's perimeter X-factors that could help buoy or bury the Tigers. He's better off focusing on the paint, since he's a career 54% shooter inside the arc. His rebounding numbers are similar to Mickey's, as is his turnover rate.

The LSU bench and defense

Reserves: Jalyn Patterson (6-0, 175), Darcy Malone (7-0, 245), Brian Bridgewater (6-5, 265). The drop off in depth for LSU is alarming--the five starters and Patterson all log 20+ minutes per game, but no one else is averaging double-digit minutes. In SEC play, the starters and Patterson accounted for all but 44 of the team's points.

Malone will see time because Mickey and Martin are going to need quick breaks here and there, but he's probably not going to make any difference offensively. Malone hardly ever shoots the ball and anyway he's shooting it badly. He also averages 8.2 fouls per 40 minutes.

Patterson is the extent of LSU's bench offense and is shooting 37.5% from beyond the arc. That's about the extent of his usefulness, as he's attempted only 19 free throws all year and shoots a modest 46% inside the arc.

LSU Defense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
Overall (National Rank) 44.6 (21) 19.2 (159) 33.0 (266) 30.0 (34)
In SEC Games (Conference Rank) 44.7 (2) 18.8 (8)
35.5 (12) 30.3 (1)


Fouls are a crucial part of every game for LSU considering their lack of reinforcements off the bench. The Tigers generally have responded well to that challenge, and neither Mickey nor Martin have been prone to fouling. They've managed to field a good defense despite this handicap to their aggressiveness; that's a fine line to walk, but they've done it nicely.

If that changes on Thursday night, then the whole tenor of the game may shift for the Tigers, who rely heavily on their big guys to generate offense. NC State has the kind of roster that can put pressure on the Tigers in this area, which is something to keep an eye on. If Martin or Mickey end up in early foul trouble, the Tigers' offensive prospects become more iffy since they'd need more from their guards.

On the other hand, if the Tigers are able to affect the Pack's shots while avoiding fouls, they may be in line for a good outing at this end of the floor. NC State could compensate by attacking the boards. There are so many variables in this matchup, it's hard to have any idea what will happen.

The Pomeroy Predictor has NC State by one. So flip your luckiest coin.