How do you stop LSU star guard Cameron Thomas?
That’s the million-dollar question facing Michigan heading into Monday’s second-round NCAA Tournament game at Lucas Oil Stadium — and one that no team has been able to answer.
Not Alabama, Tennessee or Arkansas, three Southeastern Conference teams that rank in the top 11 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. Not even St. Bonaventure, LSU’s first-round opponent, that boasted one of the country’s stingiest defenses.
Thomas arrived at LSU with a reputation as a scoring machine and has lived up to the billing. Entering play Sunday, the freshman sensation ranks second in the nation in total points scored (638) — trailing only Iowa big man Luka Garza’s mark of 711 points — and fourth in points per game (22.8).
He has scored 25 points or more 15 times this season and has scored at least 16 points in all but one contest, when he injured his ankle in the opening minutes against Ole Miss on Jan. 9. A first-team All-SEC selection, he became the first freshman to lead the conference in scoring since LSU’s Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in 1988-89.
Thomas takes and makes a lot of shots as the engine of one of the nation’s highest-scoring offensive attacks.
Michigan doesn’t have to look any further than Saturday’s contest against St. Bonaventure to get a sense of how dangerous Thomas is. After missing his first five field-goal attempts and failing to score over the first 11 minutes, Thomas poured in 27 points over the final 29 minutes. Once he started to heat up, it was over for the Bonnies.
“Well, he’s a pro,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said after his team’s 76-61 loss. “He’s a first-round pick.”
While Thomas’ shooting numbers aren’t eye-popping — 46.9% on 2-pointers and 31.9% on 3-pointers — he’s capable of scoring anywhere on the court and can get any shot he wants.
He thrives getting to the basket and initiating contact, as evidenced by his 187 made free throws and 213 attempts that rank first and third, respectively, in the nation.
Against St. Bonaventure, Thomas finished 11-for-13 from the free-throw line, marking the seventh time this season he made at least 10 free throws in a game.
“We fouled him too many times,” Schmidt said. “He does a good job of drawing fouls, and he hit a couple 3s, deep ones, but he got off when we got to the foul line. Against good shooters or good scorers, you don’t want them to get to the foul line and give them cheap ones, then they get their confidence and the rim starts looking a little bigger.”
LSU isn’t just a one-man show. It’s more of a four-man band, with forwards Trendon Watford (16.5 points) and Darius Days (11.8 points) and guard Javonte Smart (15.6 points) all capable of scoring 20. The quartet accounts for 79.5% of the Tigers’ offensive production.
Still, everything that LSU does starts and stops with Thomas.
“He’s going to be making millions of dollars one day,” Schmidt said. “He’s a great talent and we’ll be watching him in the NBA one day, maybe next year.”
NO. 1 MICHIGAN VS. NO. 8 LSU
Tip-off: 7:10 p.m. Monday, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Records: Michigan 21-4, LSU 19-9
Outlook: This is the fourth meeting between the teams and first time the programs have faced each other in the NCAA Tournament. …LSU has won five of its past six games, with its loss coming by one point to Alabama in the SEC conference tournament championship game. …The Tigers rank ninth in the nation in scoring offense (81.9 points) and 276th in scoring defense (74.8 points).
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