#9 LSU Tigers
Last Season: 19-14 (11-7) #92 in KenPom
My Prediction: 9 - 9 (9th in conference)
AndTheValleyShook’s Prediction: 7 - 11 (t-8th in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 6.6 - 11.4 (12th in conference)
HEAD COACH: Johnny Jones | Fifth season 80 - 51
Johnny Jones is easily the most criticized coach in the SEC, and while outwardly it doesn’t appear like Jones’ seat is getting hot it would certainly be understandable based upon the underachievement of the last few years. The weird part of this saga is the Tigers have been pretty good in SEC play. 11 wins last year in a league that has been plagued by parity isn’t nothing. So LSU has won its fair share of games under Jones, and were improving until the Ben Simmons show came along a year ago and slightly wrecked the expectations. So how much was Jones inability to manage the Ben Simmons hype train, and how much was Jones just not being a good enough basketball coach to succeed when given the necessary talent? Just a year before the Tigers were underachievers who still landed in the NCAA tournament, and the masses were still very critical of the job Jones did. So you have to begin to wonder at what point does Jones ability to land top recruits, but not play up to expectations start to haunt the LSU alum? A lot of the whispers about Jones can be put to bed if the Tigers can find some footing this season, with a less talented but still pretty good roster. This could be Johnny Jones statement season, or it could be the continuation of the unraveling.
SEAT TEMP: WARM
Dark times hit the SEC and one of the reasons why is their traditional powers have faltered in a big way. LSU only making two trips to the NCAAs in 10 years is a big part of the problem. From a program that once saw 10 straight NCAA appearances and 13 in 15 years, this is quite the dead period. For a program like LSU, having a 100% success in making the NCAA tourney isn’t very realistic, but moving closer to making more often than not is a reasonable expectation. Is Jones the guy to get them there? I’m not sure that seems likely but this season will tell us a lot.
Ben Simmons came into LSU with about as much hype as any player in college basketball over the last few years and he didn’t disappoint. He was electric and fun to watch but also problematic as he raised the expectations on a team that had talent but an overall mismatch of pieces. LSU was cursed with too many ball dominant players and they struggled with chemistry because of it. One of the other ball dominant players was Tim Quarterman who, inexplicably, declared for the NBA draft only to be left out in the end. Quarterman was a quality college player who could have helped the Tigers a lot this year. The last two to leave left via graduation. Both Josh Gray and Keith Hornsby provided some good years and play to Johnny Jones. Hornsby, in particular, will be missed as one of the bigger shot makers for LSU in recent years.
Antonio Blakeney | SOPHOMORE | COMBO GUARD
If you believe LSU has a chance to be good this year, that belief largely starts with Antonio Blakeney. A star recruit a year ago, Blakeney was incredibly inconsistent as a freshmen so much so that you never knew if he was going to go for 25 points on 8/11 shooting or go 0/9 and score a single point. The talent is obvious and Blakeney can carry you offensively when he’s feeling on. The big push will be to make sure his confidence is up and he ends up on more nights than he’s off. Certainly Blakeney will be the key of opposing defenses, but his elite athleticism will help him gets shots either way.
After Blakeney there are plenty of guys coming back who will be counted on to help out this year. Towards the top will be Jalyn Patterson who provided a big impact as a freshman but saw his numbers dip all the way around as a sophomore. Patterson is a good shooter and sound ball handler who will likely be counted on to start. Brandon Sampson is talented but was erratic as a freshman, his progress will be important as he could provide a big third scoring option for the Tigers. Aaron Epps had some great moments and his a high flying athlete. He’s a bit of a positionless player who isn’t quite physical enough to play on the interior consistently, while also not being quite skilled enough to play on the wing. His role will be one of the more interesting storylines to watch. Elbert Robinson is a big, big body who still hasn’t found a role despite coming in as a highly touted big. The same with Brian Bridgewater, an undersized but physical post player who hasn’t significantly cracked the rotation.
Craig Victor | Junior | Post
One of the keys to the limited success LSU had last year was Craig Victor. Victor left Arizona after failing to crack the lineup and immediately found a home in Baton Rouge. When Victor became eligible there was a change in the flow of the offense. He provided the consistent scoring down low and was an important cog and release valve for Ben Simmons. Victor is poised to take a big step forward this year as he becomes more of a focus in the offense and instead of being the release valve for Simmons, he’ll likely be option #2 for Blakeney.
Contrary to previous LSU recruiting classes, this class isn’t full of four and five star studs. The bonus is the class has necessary support early on, with developmental players for the future. Skylar Mays is a north and south combo guard with a solid skill set who projects as a backup early but could sneak into the starting five early. He’s not particularly explosive but he has that little extra which should make him a solid player in the SEC. Wayde Sims is sort of the opposite of flashy, a combo forward who makes a lot of little plays without trying to play beyond his capabilities. He’ll be a useful player for Johnny Jones. Kieran Hayward is flying under the radar a bit, but he’s a skilled wing from Austrailia who could help early and often. Duop Reath has the skill set to step outside but is a more natural post player, cleaning the glass and blocking shots. The last of the class is Branden Jenkins who is a long and athletic wing who should push for early playing time, though still likely behind Sampson and Blakeney.
|Point Guard||Combo Guard||Wing|
|Jalyn Patterson||Antonio Blakeney||Brandon Sampson|
|Skylar Mays||Branden Jenkins||Kieran Howard|
|Aaron Epps||Craig Victor|
|Duop Reath||Elbert Robinson|
Jones has a roster that lacks for the top end talent he’s had in recent years, but if you’re looking for flexibility and balance you have it. There’s enough guys they can go to to score, but figuring out the roles outside of Blakeney and Victor will require some sorting out. They can go big with Robinson or Reath and play Blakeney at the point, or they can go fast and downsize wherever possible. Based upon their success last year I think Jones will try to go smaller and more athletic with the first five above.
My Projected Record: 17 - 12 | KenPom Projected Record: 13 - 15
Non-Con: Wichita St (n), Louisville/Old Dominion (n), Houston, North Florida, Southern Miss, @ Wake Forest, Charleston, @ Texas Tech
There are a couple potential bumps in the road, and LSU certainly swerved into a few bumps last season. Overall the non-conference schedule is manageable. They take part in the Battle for Atlantis and open against Wichita State, then matchup against either Louisville or Old Dominion. Baylor, VCU and Michigan State reside on the opposite side of the bracket, so there are three potential losses just through the depth of the tournament. LSU should be better than both Old Dominion and St. John’s so I’d think they should win at least one game. Wake Forest should be tougher but they’re still rebuilding a bit, and Texas Tech will be tough again this year. The other games are winnable, so I like the Tigers odds to enter conference play with no more than four losses.
Conference: Auburn (2x), Arkansas (2x), Alabama (2x), Mississippi State (2x), Texas A&M (2x), Vanderbilt, Florida, @ Kentucky, @ Ole Miss, @ Georgia
LSU’s athleticism should be a problem for certain teams in the SEC, and they should have more experience and talent than a few others. Texas A&M and Arkansas are both teams who should be tough for the Tigers to split with, then travelling to Kentucky is a certain loss. Georgia is the type of team you’d expect LSU to struggle with, a tough physical team who is well coached and controls the tempo, and they play them on the road. But with the inconsistencies of previous years, I could see LSU taking this schedule and going 12-6 or going 6-12.
The whirlwind of the Ben Simmons one and done year is over and you’d have to imagine most within the program can breathe a sigh of relief. It’s not that you don’t want the most talented guys, more it’s the heightened expectations of the #1 player on your roster and everything it brought with it. The Tigers never seemed to find the chemistry, and I chalk a lot of that up to a roster of players who needed the ball in their hands, and the conflict of having multiple players on the same court at once with only one basketball to split between them. The decent last season started early, and the Tigers recovered a bit in SEC play, but ultimately not enough to get to post season play.
The makeup of this team is so different when you subtract Simmons, Quarterman and Gray and add in some less talented guys, but maybe that’s what the roster needed... fewer stars. Johnny Jones hasn’t shown he can make it all go with the top flight guys, and LSU has been mostly solid in league play. You can see why this roster could have a clear personality as it plays through Blakeney and Victor, instead of trying to keep multiple guys happy with the amount of shots they get. There’s no question at this point who will be relied upon to score. Shifting the focus could end up being a net positive.
When it comes to belief in the head coach, no one has less belief in him than Johnny Jones. He’s been a head coach since 2001, and made only three trips to the NCAAs, and while he built a solid program at North Texas, they weren’t exactly blowing people away. He was given the job at LSU after they fired Trent Johnson and he’s been mostly okay. They’ve had some good moments but there seems to be this prevailing opinion that he could be doing more with what he has. LSU and Jones really need to use this season to put the “Jones is a bad coach” idea to rest.
I’m certainly not on the Johnny Jones bandwagon, I certainly think he’s done enough to be given the benefit of the doubt and he’s getting zero. Most of the picks so far have had LSU at the bottom, usually just ahead of Tennessee and Missouri and it’s mostly because Johnny Jones is on the bench. I think there is enough talent on his roster and the Tigers are usually pretty tough at home, there’s no reason to think LSU would be anything less than .500 in league play. I don’t necessarily think their ceiling is as high as it’s been in years past but this roster is still a good one, and Jones will win enough games to be brought back for another go in 2017-18. The Tigers again have another couple solid 4-star players pledged, and while I don’t know Jones has necessarily raised the ceiling at LSU, which many hoped he would, but I feel like he’s raised the floor to the point where I don’t expect them to be a bottom dweller as long as he’s there. Last year I was selling on LSU, this year if the over/under is set at 6.5 wins in conference, I’m buying that stock. Even with the Jones-rider attached.
About the preview: Each SEC site was asked to submit one representative to pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.
If you’d like to submit your picks, here is the Google Form we used:
GP - Games Played
%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury
%pts - percentage of teams points scored
%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team