When the Gamecocks last saw new LSU coach Johnny Jones, they were eating a team meal at a New Orleans steakhouse before last year's SEC Tournament. Jones' previous team, the North Texas Mean Green, was on the surrounding flat-screens, battling for the Sun Belt Tournament championship.
Filets and dinner rolls captured most of the Gamecocks' attention, the game conceding to the camaraderie of a team dinner. But the team Carolina watched that night will closely resemble the team they'll face Wednesday, when South Carolina visits Jones' LSU Tigers (9-4, 0-2 SEC). Like his teams at North Texas, Jones brought an uptempo, freewheeling style to Baton Rouge that frustrates and exhausts in equal parts.
Before taking over at his alma mater, LSU, Johnny Jones spent 12 seasons as head coach of the University of North Texas.
Frustrated was not part of Frank Martin's attitude when discussing South Carolina's close losses to begin SEC play.
"I only care about LSU. Everything else is irrelevant," he said at his Tuesday press conference.
Resolve unbowed, the Gamecocks head to Baton Rouge Wednesday, looking to deliver the same result to Jones that they saw on TV that March night: a loss.
Pre-tip reads before the Gamecocks head to Death Valley's next-door neighbor, the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (8:00 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network):
Stealing The Show: Bruce Ellington had one offensive rebound against Auburn.
Make no mistake, though: Ellington rebounded.
After a nightmarish, 9-turnover night against Mississippi State, the Gamecock point guard committed only two in 36 minutes against Auburn, while adding 5 assists and a team-high 18 points.
(Next-highest SEC team in that category? Mississippi State, which harassed the Gamecocks into 24 turnovers in a loss last week.)
"If you take a lazy dribble or make a lazy pass, they make it into a comedy show," Frank Martin said Tuesday.
LSU boasts one of the fastest, most larcenous backcourts in the country in sophomore Anthony Hickey (2nd in the nation with 3.5 steals/game) and senior Charles Carmouche (2.5/game. 4th SEC). The Tigers don't rack up steals by trapping or full-court pressing. They prefer their mayhem to come from gambling, pestering, and jumping into passing lanes. Think of it like a blitzing secondary in football. Often, those steals have snowballed into big runs - the Tigers have 12 runs of 10-0 or more this year.
The Gamecocks' turnover troubles are well-chronicled. So is the Tigers' ability to force them. What will Carolina need to do to avoid LSU's larceny? Make sharp cuts off the ball, "meet the pass," and avoid the soft skip pass (Hickey is particularly adept at snatching cross-court passes).
Fast Times at the PMAC: LSU's steal-hungry defense - and guard-driven offense -- creates speed. Lots of it. The Tigers' 72.9 possessions per game rank 22nd in the nation, a significant jump from the Trent Johnson years.
To further quicken the tempo, LSU shoots three-pointers fearlessly, averaging 22 attempts per game. Hickey (11.3 points/game) works in and out of ball screens well, while backcourt mate Andre Stringer has "team bus range" - his range begins approximately when he steps off the bus. Meanwhile, forward Shavon Coleman (team-leading 13.4 points/game, 8.4 rebounds/game) uses isolations at the elbows and circle to penetrate and create.
So will LSU's blinding speed give the Gamecocks motion sickness? Not necessarily. Carolina has played four teams that rank in the Top 100 nationally in tempo. They've beaten all four, averaging 85 points per game.
Fastest Tempo Teams vs. South Carolina - 2012-13
NCAA Rank Team Result
20. LSU 1/16
50. Jacksonville W, 91-74
52. Morgan State W, 87-71
58. Rider W, 88-76
76. Appalachian State W, 74-69
.Toweling Off: Michael Carrera's hustle doesn't end on the referee's whistle. For the past two games, Carrera has grabbed a towel during a dead ball, bent down on both knees, and mopped up the puddles of sweat he had left behind.
"[It's] just a humble thing. I've always done it," he replied.
(Side note: I asked Casey Manning when he would mop up my sweat at courtside. His reply: "When you break one." Fair point.)
As seen vs. Auburn, Michael Carrera (left) gives new meaning to the phrase "dirty work."
Foul Magnet: After a quiet night against Mississippi State, Carrera brought his familiar, wrecking-ball energy to the floor against Auburn. The freshman from Anzoategui, Venezuela, finished with 6 points, 7 rebounds, and a career-high 5 assists, showing no fear against Auburn's taller, senior-laden front line. He also showed another side of his game: an irritating knack for drawing fouls. Though he hasn't played enough minutes to qualify, Carrera's average of 6.9 Fouls Drawn per 40 Minutes would rank 2nd nationally among all freshmen.
No Deep Catches: In addition to a fleet of quick guards, LSU has an imposing pair of forwards on the low block. 6'9," 257-pound power forward Johnny O'Bryant has a man-among-boy's blend of strength and athleticism. A high ankle sprain has limited O'Bryant, but the densely-muscled sophomore can face the basket or "bang and hang" with his back to the rim.
Martin said his forwards allowed Auburn's 6'10" center Rob Chubb to catch too close to the rim, resulting in easy hook shots or free-throw trips. They also failed to front the post, a fatal flaw for an undersized front line. Can they avoid the same pitfall against O'Bryant and 7'3" center Andrew Del Piero?
Stat of the Auburn Game, Pt. 1: The Gamecocks and Tigers were separated by three points or less for 35:43 of a possible 40:00. That's nearly 36 minutes played a narrow, throat-closing one possession apart.
Stat of the Auburn Game, Pt. 2: Offensive rebounds for Damien Leonard in 33 minutes vs. Auburn: 6.
Offensive rebounds for Leonard in 346 minutes of SEC play last year: 5.
And Finally... The Gamecocks will notice something they didn't see on their last trip to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center: a 900-pound, life-size bronze statue of LSU legend Shaquille O'Neal. The "Big Aristotle" statue -- complete with shattered backboard -- welcomes fans outside the PMAC.