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A bright future for LSU and Will Wade is likely going to be delayed for at least a year

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Previewing the No. 14 team in the SEC, the LSU Tigers.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State Press Conference Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
LSU Preview

#14 LSU Tigers

Last Season: 10 - 21 (2 - 16 in conference) #172 kenpom

My Prediction: 13 - 16 (3 - 15, 14th in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 4.7 - 13.3 (14th in conference)

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Salt Lake City Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

HEAD COACH: Will Wade | first season 0 - 0

Will Wade should be considered to be an out-of-the-box hire for LSU. Wade is from the south, born in Nashville, attended Clemson, so from that aspect it makes sense. But Wade is this new breed of college coach, guys who were born out of the role of a basketball team manager. Wade managed the Clemson men’s basketball team and Oliver Purnell gave him a shot as a graduate assistant and then the Director of Basketball Operations, before he moved on to the regular assistants role under Tommy Amaker at Harvard. From Purnell, to Amaker to Shaka Smart at VCU, Wade proved himself a dog on the recruiting trail, but also a new age coach as well. He embraced new age therapies and analytics in ways that even analytical coaches hadn’t yet reached. He took over a tanking UT-Chattanooga program and flipped it so quick that when Smart accepted the job at Texas, VCU gave Wade the keys to an already rolling bus. Wade’s two seasons at VCU were good, though not great. In Smarts final three seasons the Rams made the NCAAs as a five seed twice, and a seven seed once. Wade made the NCAA’s both seasons but as a 10 seed each year.

The jury is not out on Wade as an innovator and a recruiter. He’s already put his stamp on recruiting in Baton Rouge. But it remains to be seen how good of a head coach he is. We may not find out this season, but I bet we’ll know if fairly short order.

Seat Temp: COOL

alabama 10 year look 2017

Johnny Jones made the NCAA tournament once in his five years. Trent Johnson made the NCAA’s once in four years. John Brady made it four times in 11 years, and Dale Brown spent 25 years on the sidelines and made the NCAA’s 13 times (including 10 years in a row and two Final Fours). So what kind of program is LSU? One that goes twice in 10 years or one that doesn’t miss for 10 straight? I know you’ll be surprised, but they’re more in the middle. When they’re keeping the highly talented kids at home, LSU is dangerous, but when Louisiana isn’t churning out 5-star players the Tigers struggle. They should certainly be better with Wade on the sidelines than Jones or Johnson however.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Duop Reath graduation 33 60.38% 16.18% 8.75% 14.87%
Aaron Epps graduation 32 57.74% 11.88% 6.63% 9.00%
Wayde Sims death 32 42.04% 6.99% 4.05% 6.42%
Brandon Sampson professional 27 38.49% 8.13% 5.73% 7.91%
Randy Onwuasor graduation 32 37.58% 5.74% 5.08% 6.05%
Brandon Rachal transfer 27 32.38% 4.65% 3.77% 4.24%
Jeremy Combs graduation 6 3.92% 0.70% 0.66% 0.64%
Galen Alexander transfer 9 4.15% 0.66% 0.36% 0.64%
Mayan Kiir transfer 8 3.25% 0.59% 0.25% 0.53%
Reed Vial* graduation 10 1.81% 0.20% 0.10% 0.30%
56.35% 55.72% 35.38% 50.60%

What a weird offseason it’s been in Baton Rouge. A lot of people expected Antonio Blakeney to turn pro and stay pro. Blakeney seemed to be the first through fourth option for LSU last year. Especially once Craig Victor got kicked off the team in December. Then Elbert Robinson, a guy who never put it all together, decides to effectively step away from basketball and Jalyn Patterson is going to redshirt, but not be apart of the basketball team, so he can graduate and transfer… Um, ok. Neither Brandon Jenkins nor Keiran Howard contributed much so their moving on was no surprise. And Brian Bridgewater moves on after exhausting his eligibility. With as much turmoil as LSU has gone through the last few years, this was the first year they’ve lost a bunch of players to something other than graduation or professional opportunities. Johnny kept the boys around at least.

AND, WHO’S BACK?

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
Tremont Waters SO PG 33 82.19% 14.65% 63.98% 36.05%
Skylar Mays JR CG 33 77.43% 4.47% 64.65% 18.69%
Daryl Edwards SR CG 32 53.21% 0.53% 65.44% 8.53%
Marshall Graves* JR WING 14 5.43% 0.70% 40.76% 1.35%
Kavel Bigby-Williams R-SR POST TRANSFER
43.65% 20.35% 63.34% 64.62%
NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Sampson | JUNIOR | WING

When you’re flipping the roster the way Will Wade is, you need buy-in from the more talented holdovers and atop that list is the ultra-athletic wing Brandon Sampson. Sampson came in with the heralded 2015 recruiting class which included Blakeney and #1 draft choice Ben Simmons. Sampson was a top 60 player who struggled with consistency as a freshman, but found a little of it as a sophomore. When Sampson played well, LSU stood a chance last year. The problem was he didn’t play well enough throughout the year and provide a needed scoring lift. He only scored in double figures about half the time until February when he turned it on and found a groove. If Wade gets more of February Sampson (14.8ppg) and less of January Sampson (7.5ppg) the Tigers have a shot.

Part of me wonders if Duop Reath is good or if his production came because production has to come from somewhere in a basketball game. He came out of virtually no where to give the Tigers 12&6, pretty good production for a guy not many knew anything about a year ago. He played a larger role than expected and his efficiency suffered, but Reath is a solid player who should start all season. Skylar Mays came in unheralded but proved he can be a good player, he’ll need to shoot better but he’s got the body and the athleticism to be an important cog for the rebuild underway. I’m less convinced on his counterpart Wade Sims, who seems to be a severe ‘tweener, more at home as a stretch four without the size to really play down low or the athleticism to defend some of the better wings in the league. Aaron Epps is a guy I secretly like a lot. He’s not a game changer but he’s a big energy guy who is athletic and can run and make plays.

THEN, WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Nazreon Reid 6'10 240 ★★★★★ 18 POST
Fr Emitt Williams 6'7 215 ★★★★★ 26 POST
Fr Ja'Vonte Smart 6'4 190 ★★★★ 35 CG
Fr Darius Days 6'7 218 ★★★★ 62 CF
So Courtese Cooper 6'9 205 - - POST
Jr Marlon Taylor 6'6 210 ★★★ 7 WING
Jr Danya Kingsby 6'1 165 ★★★ 16 CG
tremont waters youtube

Tremont Waters | FRESHMAN | POINT GUARD

LSU has their point guard. Tremont Waters is the real deal and precisely what Will Wade needed when he took over the job in Baton Rouge. Waters is the 41st rated player who originally pledged to Georgetown but asked for his release and became a hot commodity. Waters is a fast floor general who can do it all. What he lacks in size he makes up for in just about every other category you could want for a lead guard. He’s a good shooter and a brilliant passer who makes smart decisions. He’ll still be prone to freshman mistakes, but with the kind of recruiting classes Will Wade can build, he’s started the program rebuild the right way by finding his point guard.

After Waters, the class gets interesting. They almost landed 5-star Mitchell Robinson who’s recruitment has been wild and I’m not sure whether or not it’s still going on right now. Brandon Rachal is a smooth combo guard with great body control around the basket. Galen Alexander is probably a little closer to be ready to contribute physically, he’s a strong athlete whose body is ready to defend SEC wings right away. Mayan Kiir was a bit of a late riser and also a bit of a project. He may be able to provide some minutes here and there but he’s got a very norrow build and needs to add some weight to bang in the post. Daryl Edwards has good size for his position, and plays under control. He’s limited but could contribute early and even contend to start. I’ve heard good things about the contributions of Jeremy Combs, but I’m not convinced he’ll be much more than a spot contributor. And a very late pickup but a good one is Randy Onwuasor, best suited off the ball Onwuasor played for a bad team last year but has a knack for scoring as evidence by the 23 per game he averaged. I don’t expect him to lead the team but a solid guard off the bench should help the Tigers balance their rotation.

DEPTH CHART

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard Tremont Waters Ja'Vonte Smart
(2) Combo Guard Skylar Mays Daryl Edwards Danya Kingsby
(3) Wing Marlon Taylor Darius Days Aundre Hyatt
(4) Combo Forward Nazreon Reid Emmit Williams
(5) Post Kavell Bigby-Williams Courtese Cooper

Yeah, well, when you put it all together there leaves a little to be desired. There’s talent here, but it remains pretty young outside of Reath and Sampson. I like Waters to start along with Sampson and Reath. After those three it can get messy. Onwuasor probably has the edge in experience but Mays has reportedly had a good offseason and could edge him out. Expect a lot from the freshmen Rachal, Alexander, and Kiir should all provide support, but overall there just isn’t great depth here to expect a quick turnaround.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 13 - 16 | KenPom Projected Record: 12 - 16

Notre Dame v Michigan Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 6 Home SE Louisiana 274 W
Nov 9 Home UNC Greensboro 93 W
Nov 13 Home Memphis 107 W
Nov 16 Home La Tech 133 W
Nov 22 Neutral Charleston 99 W
Nov 23 Neutral UAB/Florida State 162/15 L
Nov 25 Neutral - -
Dec 1 Home Grambling 306 W
Dec 9 Home Incarnate Word 335 W
Dec 12 Away Houson 45 L
Dec 15 Neutral St. Mary's 74 W
Dec 21 Home Furman 147 W
Dec 28 Home UL-Monroe 242 W
avg 168.64

A manageable non-conference schedule with the aside of a tough opening round matchup in Maui against Michigan. Lose the opener and the likelihood of winning two games there goes up by a lot. There are a few tossup games against Memphis, Houston and UNC-Wilmington (sans Kevin Keatts) which the Tigers will need to go at least 2-1 in those games to stay in good shape heading into conference play.

CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Jan 8 Home Alabama 51 W
Jan 12 Away Arkansas 64 W
Jan 15 Away Ole Miss 94 W
Jan 19 Home South Carolina 42 W
Jan 23 Home Georgia 101 W
Jan 26 Away Missouri 43 L
Jan 30 Away Texas A&M 48 W
Feb 2 Home Arkansas 64 W
Feb 6 Away Mississippi State 23 L
Feb 9 Home Auburn 17 W
Feb 12 Away Kentucky 7 L
Feb 16 Away Georgia 101 L
Feb 20 Home Florida 19 W
Feb 23 Home Tennessee 11 L
Feb 26 Home Texas A&M 48 W
Mar 2 Away Alabama 51 L
Mar 6 Away Florida 19 L
Mar 9 Home Vanderbilt 69 W
avg 48.44

I’m not optimistic about LSU this season but even I think the 3-15 pick is a bit harsh. It wouldn’t surprise me to see them get up to five or six conference wins. The problem is their conference slate isn’t easy, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, and Alabama all have the talent to win the league if things go right. Arkansas will have experience and toughness, and they get each of those teams twice. I do think LSU will be a much improved team from a year ago. The problem is the rest of the league is as well. Last season’s KenPom low isn’t likely to be this years KenPom low as I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers inside to the top 100 but still last in the league.

OVERVIEW

There’s a reason LSU went looking for a new head coach. At the end of the Jones tenure the program was a mess and that was evident despite at least enough talent to finish dead last in the league. With things a mess the program needed to inject some new blood and try to right the ship. Enter Will Wade.

We’re not quiet sure whether Wade is a good coach or not but he’s already proven he can recruit with the best of them. Along with retaining several of the top recruits Jones had secured with the last class like Rachal and Alexander, he landed Waters on his own and has since added Nazreon Reed and Ja’Vonte Smart, both high level players. So the future is bright if Wade can prove himself on the court as he’s already proven off of it.

If the disorganization of Jones can quickly turn into the modified organized chaos Wade prefers you can see how this roster of talented young players and assorted misfits could come together in time to exceed expectations. Wade’s system, modified from Shaka Smart, emphasizes pressure and defense, something most offenses don’t enjoy playing against.

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

But if, as I expect, the overwhelming roster overhaul combined with a youth movement coupled with the new system leads to some early season struggles, the SEC schedule won’t relent enough for this team to catch their breath. Its easy to see LSU running into a few losses and letting them turn into a few more.

For things to go right this year LSU will need a lot from unproven guys. Unproven scoring on the wing and a freshman point guard. I’m as big of a fan of Tremont Waters as anyone, and he’ll make LSU better, but expecting him to charter the Tigers to somewhere north of 18 or 19 wins considering the mess of a program Johnny Jones left behind seems myopic at best and delusional at worst.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see LSU out of the basement of the SEC, there are enough pieces and with a system in place that works I could see LSU maybe climbing as high as 6-12 or 7-11 in conference. Brandon Sampson is going to have to show up as a reliable leading scorer, Randy Onwuasor will need to be a solid second or third option and they’ll need to get consistent production from more than just Duop Reath on the inside. If they get all of those things the Tigers could be a threat. I would just bet we’re more likely looking at a rebound season in 2018-19.


About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one 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, click here for the Google Form we used.


GLOSSARY

* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player

GP - Games Played

%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury

%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team

%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.