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LSU men’s basketball showing progress in Matt McMahon’s second year

LSU men’s basketball upset Kentucky in Baton Rouge earlier this week, giving the Tigers back-to-back wins over ranked opponents.

Matt McMahon needed some momentum. Prior to the last two games, LSU had lost six of seven.

But now, the Tigers are two games over .500 and have already tripled their conference win total from last year. This is what you want to see from a coach in his second year.

This year was rough at times and there have been moments where the progress wasn’t obvious, but now there’s a clear trend up.

Here’s where LSU has shown the most drastic improvement from last year.

Field goal percentage

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, LSU had an eFG% of 47.3%, which was 318th nationally. This year the Tigers are over five points better at 52.8%, good enough to rank 78th in the country.

Much of the improved efficiency can be attributed to Will Baker and Jalen Cook.

Baker’s eFG% of 56.4 is the best among LSU’s significant contributors. Cook is near 50% too, despite shooting at a high volume.

Three dimensional offensive attack

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Cook and Baker aren’t the only guys that can score on this team. Vanderbilt transfer Jordan Wright is averaging 14.9 points per game on the season and 15.2 in conference play.

With Cook, Baker and Wright, LSU has three guys who can be the leading scorer on any given night.

Last year, defenses knew to key on KJ Williams in the frontcourt and Adam Miller in the backcourt.

LSU has a more diversified attack this year.

Consistent defense

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

According to EvanMiya, LSU had just one player with a defensive rating over 1.00 last year. This season. the Tigers have four, with Wright, Carlos Stewart, Derek Fountain and Jalen Reed.

Stewart hasn’t seen much action in conference play, but the other three have been a consistent presence.

That doesn’t even account for Trae Hannibal, who leads LSU in Sports Reference’s defensive rating.

This defensive core has given LSU a top 80 defense according to KenPom, jumping nearly 100 spots from where it ranked last year.

The intangibles are better

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

LSU got off to a 12-1 start last year that included a big conference opening win against Arkansas. McMahon’s Year 1 looked bright after that. But then, next thing you knew, LSU was 12-15 after a 14-game losing streak.

It started with a close loss to Kentucky, which was read as another good sign. After that, it all fell apart. The team took a couple of losses and proceeded to lose by double-digits night after night. There wasn’t much fight shown within games or on a game-to-game basis.

This year is different. LSU’s first few games with a mixed bag. There was a rough loss to Nicholls State followed by good performances against Dayton, North Texas and Wake Forest, all top 100 teams.

LSU got it together after that. It managed the nonconference, losing some games to good teams, but it didn’t find itself on the wrong end of any more embarrassing upsets.

When conference play got off to a rough start, LSU didn’t quit then either. The Tigers have a knack for bouncing back and competing throughout the game, even when the opponent is more talented.

This is a good sign and it speaks to what McMahon can do as a coach. This was a full rebuild when he took the job and it’s not nearly complete, but his message is starting to slip through.

It was a bad look to lose 14 in a row like that last year. Fans began to question if McMahon was right for the job. Right now, there aren’t many doubts and you have to like where this program is going.

Story originally appeared on LSU Tigers Wire