If nothing else, rebounding has been a bit of an issue for the LSU men’s basketball team for the past couple of weeks — perhaps as far back as the Tigers’ exhibition tour of Australia in August.
Yes, 6-foot-10 forward Ben Simmons is averaging 12.7 rebounds per game after pulling down a career-high 16 in Thursday night’s 78-66 win against South Alabama.
Yes, the Tigers are averaging 40.0 rebounds a game, with nearly a third of them being pulled down by Simmons, to 39.3 for their first three opponents.
Still, LSU coach Johnny Jones is feeling uneasy going into a 6 p.m. Monday matchup against Marquette in the semifinals of the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in New York.
There’s reason for concern after LSU (3-0) has been out-rebounded by two of its first three as well as in its exhibition game.
“I think it’s more attention to detail for us,” Jones said. “It’s important that we continue to harp on it. We have to continue to work on it because it’s one of the more important parts of our game.”
What’s more, Jones doesn’t know if he’ll have 7-1 sophomore center Elbert Robinson III, who’s listed as probable after spraining his left ankle Thursday.
Robinson’s absence could be critical against a Marquette team with a pair of 6-11 players in forward Henry Ellenson and center Luke Fischer.
Marquette (1-2) out-rebounds its opponents 37.0 to 34.0 with Ellenson, a freshman who was ranked by ESPN as the No. 2 power forward in the nation and fifth overall recruit last winter, averaging 9.0 per game. Fischer averages 7.3 rebounds a game.
“Marquette is a team that has the size, strength and quickness to deal with the guys that we have,” Jones said. “It’s probably one of the toughest matchups we’ll have early in the season.”
The challenge won’t end there for the Tigers, who’ll play in the consolation game or championship Tuesday against North Carolina State or Arizona State.
N.C. State, which eliminated LSU from the NCAA tournament with a last-second 66-65 win in the second round, and Arizona State meet in the second semifinal Monday night.
Both those teams are out-rebounding their foes by healthy margins this season. North Carolina State holds a 45.7-40.3 edge, while Arizona State is even better at 44.0-32.0.
For now, Jones is concerned about Marquette. Ellenson, who Jones thinks can be an NBA lottery pick, was ranked as the nation’s No. 2 power forward behind only Simmons last winter.
“He can put the ball on the deck, has great size and strength, and is great in the post area,” Jones said. “That’s a tough matchup. They actually have two post guys that will present some challenges as to how we defend them.”
Jones believes LSU can combat a rebounding disparity with some solid guard play from Tim Quarterman, Antonio Blakeney, Brandon Sampson, Josh Gray and Jalyn Patterson, even though Keith Hornsby remains out.
“We’re not sure what kind of lineup we’ll have,” Jones said. “We may have to do some things to offset their post guys.”
If Robinson can’t play, Jones could turn to 6-9 forward Aaron Epps, 7-0 center Darcy Malone or 6-5 forward Brian Bridgewater to fill in — or even go with an extra guard.
“If people are taking advantage of us in the post, we’ll have to give them some different looks that will balance things out,” Jones said. “When we downsize like that, we’re able to be quicker on the floor.
“We may be able to extend our defense, create some pressure and make them have to spread the floor and play a little bit faster than they’d like.”