COLUMBIA – When the Missouri men’s basketball team plays at LSU on Tuesday night, the Tigers from the Show-Me state will be faced with a big problem.
Who: LSU Tigers (11-5, 2-2)
Where: Pete Maravich Center in Baton Rouge, La.
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Listen: Tiger Radio Network
That problem is LSU’s frontcourt duo of 6-foot-9, 256-pound Johnny O’Bryant III and 6-foot-8, 220-pound Jordan Mickey – a tandem Missouri coach Frank Haith labeled as the most talented front-line in the Southeastern Conference.
Missouri (14-3 overall, 2-2 in the SEC) is all-too-familiar with O’Bryant. In two games against the Tigers last season, O’Bryant averaged 16 points and 9.5 rebounds. O’Bryant has improved offensively this season, increasing his shooting percentage and his scoring production. The junior averages 14.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Ryan Rosburg faced O’Bryant sparingly in the teams’ two matchups last season. The 6-foot-10, 250-pounder knew O’Bryant was one of the conference’s top players but remembers being surprised by how good O’Bryant actually was.
“He doesn’t miss many shots, plays real hard. … He’s just very, very good at what he does,” Rosburg, now a sophomore, said.
Joining O’Bryant in the paint for LSU (11-5, 2-2) is Mickey, a true freshman. Mickey is averaging 13.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game and 3.6 blocks per game.
“He’s got everything in his game: He can score, he can face you up, shoot it, pass it, obviously he can score around the block,” Haith said. “Everybody talks about the freshmen at Kentucky, and they are very, very good – but I don’t know if he’s getting his due because he’s super talented.”
Haith wants to see physicality from his team early and often Tuesday night.
“We’ve got to do our work early. We can’t let him get established in the post position, and we can’t let him go to work on our guys one-on-one,” Haith said. “It’s got to be a great team defensive effort.
“If we do that with some physicality, with our chests, with our backs, I think we’ll have success with our post guys being defenders.”
Because Missouri does not rely on any of its post players to score, coupled with the fact that Hairth can deploy a five-man rotation of front-court players, the MU coach isn’t concerned about his players’ physicality leading to potential foul trouble Tuesday night.
“We don’t want them to be shy and soft in there. That won’t give us a chance to win,” Haith said. “We will play the guys who get out there and play with some physicality. I’m not worried about that with those guys at all.”
What also doesn’t worry Missouri is the paint presence Mickey and O’Bryant will have when Missouri has the ball.
“Not at all,” Jordan Clarkson, Missouri guard, said when asked if his approach would change because of LSU’s frontcourt. “I’m just going to keep attacking the basket. I know how to finish over bigger guys. And then on the defensive end, that’s where we’re going to have our emphasis on with them.”
Supervising editor is Mark Selig: email@example.com, 882-5730.