6. LSU Tigers
Last season: 22 - 11
My Prediction: 10 - 8 (in conference)
And The Valley Shook's Prediction: 13 - 5
The Masses Prediction: 13.3 - 4.7
Since legendary coach Dale Brown hung it up the LSU Tigers have had trouble sustaining success. There have been flashes, John Brady saw two Final Fours, but uneven success led to him being fired and after a flat run with Trent Johnson, the Tigers turned to former guard and assistant coach Johnny Jones. Jones has been at the helm for three seasons, and from a pure record standpoint has seemingly stabilized the program. Yet despite a large influx of incredible talent, the performance has been mostly uneven. And Jones continues to bring in large amounts of talent, which we’ll talk about soon. As long as he keeps winning, Jones should be fine. But winning on the backs of highly talented recruits tends to increase expectations, and the expectations are pretty high in Baton Rouge.
WHO THEY LOST
Losing a couple of players of the caliber of Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey isn’t going to be easy for the Tigers to make up. Martin was the highly sought after 5-star forward who really blossomed as a sophomore, taking his game to a new level and a selection in the first round of the NBA draft. Martin was a highlight reel in transition, and a great player from mid-range, a difficult matchup with his athleticism. Mickey was less highly sought in high school as a top 50 recruit but an instant impact as a freshmen known for his defense and rebounding. In particular, he was one of the best shot blockers in the country and improved enough his sophomore season to become an early second round pick to the Boston Celtics. Odo played two years for LSU, but never averaged more than 8 minutes a game and was a complete non-factor.
WHO IS COMING BACK?
|Elbert Robinson III||sophomore||F||11||.050||.002||.014||.428||-||-|
|Craig Victor II||r-sophomore||F||REDSHIRT -- Transfer from Arizona|
Quarterman will be helped a bunch by the quirky-yet-effective three point shotmaking of Keith Hornsby. Hornsby, who you may recall is the son of Bruce Hornsby, made a ton of big shots for the Tigers a year ago including a game-winner at Arkansas to close the regular season. After Hornsby, the Tigers bring back Josh Gray, one of the top JUCO transfers before last year, who failed to make a big impression while struggling to deal with playing without the ball. Gray is a high-usage kind of point guard, and he was on a team with 2 bigs and a wing that required the ball in their hands a lot. He didn't quite fit. With a more balanced approach from last year, and a deeper roster it will be interesting to see if Gray is able to make more of an impact. Jaylyn Patterson is the only other real contributor coming back from last year. Patterson was an unranked 3-star guard who played consistently enough and provided enough outside shooting that he became a consistent part of a shallow rotation from last year. With a deeper backcourt, it will be something to watch to see how much he's able to provide this year. With Darcy Malone, Brian Bridgewater and Elbert Robinson III, Johnny Jones mixed and matched these guys where he could but never received the level of play he got from Martin and Mickey so all three were relegated to clean-up minutes. There's reason to think that Robinson can help this year with some defense and rebounding, as he was a raw but highly rated freshman. Reports out of camp are that he's much improved and could be of use this year after some offseason conditioning work. The last name to mention is Craig Victor, a mid-semester transfer from Arizona, who was highly rated out of high school but had trouble getting the kind of playing time he wanted in Tucson. With Martin and Mickey moving on, Victor will likely find a role on this years version of the Tigers when he becomes eligible after the completion of the fall semester.
WHO ARE THE NEWCOMERS?
Simmons AAU teammate is former Mizzou recruit Antonio Blakeney. Blakeney was being recruited by the Haith regime and Tim Fuller, who stuck around an extra year, and because of that Mizzou made his top 3. Blakeney ultimately chose LSU over Mizzou and Kentucky, he's a 5-star combo guard who can heat up in a hurry and has the ability to make shots at all three levels. His weakness is that he's not the strongest guy at this stage, but his ability to generate offense should overshadow that fact. The last freshmen Brandon Sampson was a physical wing from Louisiana who initially chose St. Johns before Steve Lavin was fired and he ultimately went with the home school. Sampson is an very good athlete with an underrated jumpshot and should be able to play a lot of minutes early.
|Point Guard||Combo Guard||Wing|
|Antonio Blakeney||Keith Hornsby||Tim Quarterman|
|Josh Gray||Jaylyn Patterson||Brandon Sampson|
|Ben Simmons||Elbert Robinson III|
|Brian Bridgewater||Craig Victor|
There is a ton of talent on this roster. So it’s easy to see the Tigers as a hot pick to be the second best or third best team in the SEC. But those people would have a lot more faith in the head coach than I do. Jones has had some talented teams in his time in Baton Rouge and hasn’t been able to get his teams to play consistently night in and night out. The Tigers were a tournament team a year ago, but had losses to Auburn (twice), Missouri, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Clemson. Their losses to Texas A&M and Kentucky are understandable, but losing 6 games to teams that were out of the KenPom top 100 shows a heightened level of inconsistency.
They’ve loaded up on another cupcake filled non-conference schedule, which should either be a boon for the younger players to build confidence, or a detriment as they float through game after game until they’re met with a brutal SEC schedule. Their toughest tests early come from Marquette (who’s probably another year away from being pretty good), and then either NC State or Arizona State in Brooklyn. They've also scheduled Wake Forrest, who hasn’t finished in the top 100 of KenPom since 2010. Oklahoma, a preseason #11 team, comes to Baton Rouge in the SEC/Big12 Challenge at the end of January, which should be a tough test. When they get to the SEC, the Tigers get Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, and even Florida a couple times. They get a break with Arkansas and Alabama each twice, but have to travel to Vanderbilt early in the slate. The conference schedule isn't the easiest for the young Tigers.
So we won’t really know what to make of LSU until they get into the meat of their SEC schedule. The ceiling for this team is super high. There’s no question that LSU has one of the top 2 or 3 rosters in the SEC, and probably a top 20 roster in the country. Depending on who you ask, they also have the biggest question marks at coach. Jones has proven that he can lure elite talent to LSU, but LSU has never been a program that lacked for talent (outside of the Trent Johnson years). Even the worst teams in Tigers history had enough talent to be better. Talent alone will win you a lot of games, and last year it won them enough to sneak into the NCAAs. This team won’t be able to pass by on talent alone, they’re going to have to find another gear that helps them not overlook the bottom dwellers of the SEC and get up for the games that are easy to get up for, if they want to exceed my expectations anyway.
With electric freshmen, a couple steady seniors, a special junior and some other potential growth from players like Elbert Robinson, Brian Bridgewater, or even Darcy Malone, LSU really has a chance to be a great team. But taking that leap of faith means that there’s something extra that this group has that the last didn’t. Talented, but is there enough discipline? Can Johnny Jones get a hold of the abundance of talent and shape it into something more than a team that meets the bottom standard of NCAA tournament team? It’s all there, they just need that extra kick that a really good coach provides, and this roster has enough to be a top 10 or 15 team in the country. Will the coach be able to help them find consistency? Or will he struggle to keep the younger players in line with the veterans enough to make the jump. I certainly hope they can pull it together because this could be a really fun team to watch. If they don’t, it will be one of the most frustrating.
You know you only have one year with Ben Simmons, it’s up to the coach to make it count. I don’t have the faith.
There’s a lot above that matches how I evaluate this team, though I wouldn’t say the majority of the fanbase around Baton Rouge feels the same way about Johnny Jones. And don’t get me wrong, people know the facts, the idea that LSU just got the No. 1 recruit and two other stud recruits, but it’s football season, so the buzz isn’t quite there yet for this season.
But even with my rather harsh assessment of Jones, who absolutely didn’t have the team ready to play in 5-6 horrible losses (which cost LSU a 5-6 seed, instead of the No. 9 seed it earned), this team has massive potential. Sam, you touched on it a but even I think it’s undersold. The pure talent on the roster is probably No. 2 in the SEC by a clear margin, at least in my opinion Jones has pulled in great recruiting hauls really for three years now. Theoretically, that should pay off with some more roster depth to keep the lulls and late-game collapses from being such an issue. Remember, LSU had a lead in the final four minutes in nine of its 11 losses last season.
That, as much as anything, may be the reason why no one has anointed this team as a true contender just yet. I’m more bullish on their shot to even potentially challenge UK for the league title, but that’s probably fan-driven optimism in play. After all, my head tells me that this team will absolutely gack away a couple games in confounding fashion, as every Jones team at LSU has done.
But even with Quarterman back, a NCAA Tournament return accomplished and Blakeney and Sampson, this team is Ben Simmons’ squad and he might just be the talk of college basketball by January. It’s been a long time since LSU had a talent anywhere near Simmons’ level. In fact, he’s probably, even in one season, going to be the best Tiger since Shaq. Elite company, indeed. We’re all excited to see his mix of passing ability, athleticism and a relatively refined offensive game. The LeBron comparison is a fair one as far as style, since Simmons won’t be looking to drop 30 per night. And LSU will probably be better for it, since Hornsby and Patterson are great perimeter shooters, Quarterman can finish at the rim and Sampson/Blakeney can create off the bounce.
Ultimately, the Tigers’ season will come down to the stars staying healthy and avoiding those 100+ Ken Pom/RPI losses. I thought the Auburn, Mississippi State and Missouri losses could have torpedoed LSU’s NCAA hopes last year. I don’t think that’s in play as much this season but there are far more expectations this season with Simmons and Blakeney in the fold. Can LSU win the games it’s supposed to and be a top 25 mainstay? Can they parlay that into a 4-5 seed come March and a run to the Sweet 16 and beyond? There’s optimism, but it’s cautious and, until proven otherwise, the league shouldn’t be trembling just yet. Just don’t be surprised if there’s enough talent that Jones’ coaching flaws appear well hidden this winter.
|Crabshire||And The Valley Shook|
This whole little section is going to start and end with one man, and that man is Johnny Jones. there's a line about Kramer from Seinfeld that goes like this, "Kramer goes to fantasy camp. His whole life is a fantasy camp. People should plunk down two thousand dollars to live like him for a week. Do nothing, fall ass-backwards into money, mooch food off your neighbors and have sex without dating. That's a fantasy camp." And that's how I view Johnny Jones. He fell ass backwards into great players and despite his seeming inability to coach them, they continue to come into his program. He potentially has the best freshman in the country on his team in Ben Simmons and my hope is that he doesn't break him. The past two year's teams to play for Jones should have done far more than they did. The fact that they were one of three Mizzou conference victories is damning! This team will only go as far as the players take it because Jones is not going to put them in a situation to win. Do you remember how they lost in the first round of the tourney? It was amazing in how it went down. Just imagine if they knew what the hell they were doing out there. Anyway, that's not relevant, it's a new year, and a new team with lofty, lofty expectations...but there's still the Johnny Jones Factor, so don't get too comfortable LSU fans. One minute you'll be winning at Kentucky in an OT game, and then you'll be losing by 10 to Arkansas at home. Nothing will make sense! Good luck to you all...it's gonna be a bumpy ride...
About the preview: Each SBNation site was asked for one representative to submit a Game-by-Game pick of the upcoming SEC season to get a different look than if we just asked them to submit a ranking by team, or a prediction for their record. It yielded some interesting results as you can see.
GP: Games Played
%min: Percentage of team minutes played that were available
%poss: Percentage of usage, when a player is the cause of the end of possession (turnover or shot)
%points: Percentage of points scored vs team points
%rbds: Percentage of rebounds vs team rebounds
eFG%: Field Goal percentage with added weight of 50% for three point shots made
%3pm: Percentage of 3-point makes to team 3-point makes
ORtg: Average points scored per 100 possessions (if the player was responsible for each possession)
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