Duo’s scoring and rebounding proved vital for Tigers in key SEC wins over Kentucky, Arkansas
“They’ve really played well off each other. It’s rare sometimes when you have two post guys that are capable of being able to shoot the ball from the perimeter (and) also playing with their back to the basket.” Johnny jones, LSU coach
Johnny O’Bryant III didn’t have a shabby week.
Neither did the LSU forward’s frontcourt partner in Jordan Mickey.
On Monday, the Southeastern Conference affirmed as much when it singled the Tigers’ big men out for weekly honors after LSU (14-6, 5-3) upset then-No. 11 Kentucky and followed it up with a win over Arkansas on Saturday.
O’Bryant, a 6-foot-9, 256-pound junior, earned player of the week recognition after averaging 26 points and 9.0 rebounds in the wins, which included a season-high 29 points against the Wildcats.
Meanwhile, Mickey, a 6-8, 220-pound forward, was tabbed as freshman of the week for posting 18 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.5 blocks for the Tigers.
In the process, they’ve put LSU firmly back among the ranks of schools on the bubble for a NCAA tournament bid, an effort helped by the Tigers winning four of their past five games.
The duo proved vital against Kentucky, which entered among the nation’s best rebounding teams and offered up a bevy of talent — albeit young — in freshman forward Julius Randle, sophomore Willie Cauley Stein.
O’Bryant and Mickey combined for 37 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocked shots against the Wildcats. For O’Bryant, it continues a dominant five game stretch which he’s averaged 21.6 points per game and is shooting roughly 58 percent from the floor.
“They’ve really played well off each other,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “It’s rare sometimes when you have two post guys that are capable of being able to shoot the ball from the perimeter also playing with their back to the basket. Both can handle the basketball, good passers, good decision makers.”
While LSU has surged, a surprising start for Ole Miss (15-6, 6-2) has gone largely ignored.
The Rebels, who were picked in the preseason to finish seventh, sit in third place and a game ahead of the Tigers and Tennessee.
With a RPI spot of No. 57, coach Andy Kennedy’s group seemingly has the right set of factors to merit some discussion for a bid.
So what gives?
Well, Ole Miss’ first eight SEC opponents had an average RPI of No. 118, including five games against Auburn (No. 175) and Mississippi State (No. 157) and South Carolina (No. 145) on the slate.
Now, the Rebels get a figurative stress test this week with a trip to Kentucky and hosting Missouri. How those games unfold will speak a lot about whether Kennedy’s group merits a place in the March mix. Besides, the Rebels proved the futility of some bracketologists, reeling off four wins to take the SEC tournament crown and an automatic bid.
“We’ve got opportunities on the horizon, and we don’t pay a lot attention to the projections,” Kennedy said. ‘There’s so much basketball left yet to be played. We certainly lived that last year. We were dead numerous times, and our guys continued to grind and fight.”
Nearing the turn in SEC play, Alabama’s road woes might be a talisman of a limping finish for the Crimson Tide.
Bama (9-12, 3-5) is winless in eight trips away from Coleman Coliseum with six more still to go.
Some of the struggles stems from a beefed up nonconference schedule. Alabama faced No. 21 Oklahoma and No. 11 Duke on neutral floors and visited UCLA (No. 19 in the RPI) at Pauley Pavilion.
“We’ve played against some pretty good competition on the road and some very hostile environments,” coach Anthony Grant said.
But there have also been subpar defeats to Drexel (No. 119), which came in triple overtme, and a 19-point shellacking at Auburn.
Grant, though, sounded measured in his optimism that Bama will break through, even if three of its trips are to tough venues at Arkansas, Florida and Kentucky.
“For the most part, it’s getting over the hump,” he said. “Outside of a couple of games, we’ve had opportunities in pretty much all of our games away from home. The thing we’ve got to do is maintain that fight for 40 minutes.”
After sitting out Saturday against LSU, Arkansas forward Alandise Harris and guard Michael Qualls were reinstated to practice Monday.
Earlier in the day, though, coach Mike Anderson did not provide an update during his turn on the SEC coaches’ teleconference.
Yet the Arkansas News Bureau reported Anderson met with the players, who are his third- and fourth-leading scorers, and decided to bring them back into the fold.
“We’ll have our full team,” he told the outlet.