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Will Wade and Tremont Waters have the LSU Tigers ahead of schedule

Previewing the No. 5 team in the SEC, the LSU Tigers.

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
LSU Preview

#5 LSU Tigers

Last Season: 18-15 (8-10 SEC) No. 66 KenPom

My Prediction: 21-9 (11-7, 5th in SEC)

The Masses Prediction: 10.3-7.7 (6th in SEC) No. 50 KenPom

NCAA Basketball: SEC Basketball Tipoff Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Will Wade | Second season, 18-15

After a resurgent first season in Baton Rouge, Will Wade was setting the world on fire with his recruiting. Then came the revelation he was picked up on a wiretap talking to Christian Dawkins, a central figure in an FBI investigation that led to the conviction and several others. Wade remains an up and coming coach whose basketball bonafides run deep, starting at Clemson as a manager and rising to lead one of the SEC’s more storied programs. What do we know so far about Wade?

Not a lot.

For one, he can recruit. He built a roster at UT-Chattanooga that challenged for league titles in short order, and took over a well-oiled machine at VCU and kept things humming. His first season in Baton Rouge stood out because he quickly retooled LSU’s roster and coaxed it to an 8-10 mark in SEC play.

That said, we haven’t seen Wade define who he is or the style he can call his signature. While he comes from Shaka Smart’s coaching tree, he hasn’t deployed VCU’s vaunted Havoc at LSU. At this stage, there are still more questions than answers, but given Wade’s age, it’s just what comes with being a young coach. His youth allows him to be more accepting of modern-day analytics and health regimens, and his approach uses a multitude of methods to get the best from his players. With the way Wade has recruited though, it won’t be too hard to keep things steady under his watch, because the talent he’s amassing will win a lot of games on its own.

Seat Temp: COOL

The expectation for the Tigers is a return to the NCAA Tournament, a destination the programs reached just twice in the past decade during underwhelming stints by Trent Johnson and Johnny Jones. While Johnson was an astute tactician, he struggled to stock LSU’s roster with elite talent. In Jones, the Tigers hired an alum who got his start on the bench with legendary coach Dale Brown. Unlike Johnson, Jones had no problems amassing top-flight prospects, including Jarrell Martin, Jordan Mickey, Antonio Blakeney, Tim Quarterman and, most notably, Ben Simmons. The result? A losing SEC record and one NCAA bid. A little over a decade ago, though, John Brady led LSU to a Final Four — the fourth in the program’s history. The 12 years since illustrate how life at a solid program hinges on the right hire. If Wade helps LSU earn a dance guard, it’ll be more evidence that the Tigers may have found the right steward.

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%

I’m going to start here with the tragic news of Wayde Sims death at the end of September. While Sims wasn’t going to make or break the Tigers, he was a program legacy, a native son and a guy who loved being a part of the program. This season is one where the LSU will carry a heavy heart into every game, dedicating their season to Sims.

Back to the basketball side, Duop Reath was one of the SEC’s more underrated post players during his time at LSU, posting 12.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Aaron Epps is a combo forward I’m going to miss. Built like triple-jumper, Epps had long limbs and a big stride to go with a reliable jumper who carved out a niche after arriving on campus as a blank slate. I thought Brandon Sampson was poised for a breakout season, but he struggled through some injuries and opted to test his chances professionally. Randy Onwuasor turned into a reliable veteran role player.

LSU’s offseason was wild off the floor, too. Galen Alexander was first suspended and then transferred. The same sequence unfolded for Mayan Kiir, while Brandon Rachal transferred.

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: Mississippi State at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Tremont Waters | SOPHOMORE| POINT GUARD

The point guard rests solidly near the top of my list of players I’m excited to watch. Despite being listed generously at 5-foot-11, Waters plays so much bigger than his size, which heightens expectations. Importing a bunch of talented big men, all whom can play in pick-and-rolls, and giving them a guard who had an assist rate of 33 percent last season is one way to build a deadly offense. That Waters had that high of an assist rate on a team without many other proven scorers is almost a miracle in of itself. Upgrading the roster naturally leads to a spot on the preseason All-SEC team.

There’s a whole lot of turnover on the roster from a year ago. Daryl Edwards found a role and moved into the starting lineup by playing off the ball with Waters. After sitting out last season via transfer from Oregon, Kavell Bigby-Williams gives Wade some size and mobility on the front line, but it’s an open question how polished Bigby-Williams will be offensively. He struggled to finish around the rim at Oregon but offset it with solid defense and decent work on the backboards.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Skylar Mays | JUNIOR| COMBO GUARD

If one existed, Mays would own a spot on the SEC’s All-Underrated team. An overlooked addition to Johnny Jones’ last recruiting class, Mays has been steady since his first few minutes on the floor, playing with cool confidence and under control. He’s an efficient scorer and made a steady transition into a role as a secondary ball-handler during his sophomore season. In a lot of ways, adding Waters to the roster freed up Mays to thrive in his more natural role as a combo guard, turning him into a shot-maker instead of a creator.

And even with the influx of talent joining the roster, Mays’s minutes are likely safe because of his ability to play with good pace and efficiency. A modern-day coach like Wade knows you have to take advantage of that combination.

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

Loaded: that’s how you describe this collection of players. Usually, you’d expect it to congregate at Kentucky or Duke. The most touted player is Nazreon Reid, a brutish athletic forward who handles the ball fairly well and has decent range. You can critique his defensive engagement and motor, but he possesses all the physical tools to set them aside. Emmitt Williams is a force around the basket. At 6-foot-7, he plays with energy, passion and a desire to dunk everything. Javonte Smart can be electric and he’s wired to score. Yet Smart, a Baton Rouge native, is a ball-dominant combo guard, raising questions about how he’ll plug into the rotation with Waters and Mays. Next up is Darius Days, who might be my favorite member of this vaunted class. He’s the perfect example of a combo forward, possessing ideal size and the ability to use a reliable jumper to attack off the bounce. Finally, Aundre Hyatt seems a little undervalued by his rating. I’m not sure he’s an elite player, but he does have solid potential.

Courtese Cooper was a little-known prospect who chose a Division II junior college and boosted his profile enough to land at LSU. I’d be skeptical of him beating out Reid, Williams, and Bigby-Williams but as a developmental guy, there’s intrigue. Marlon Taylor is a name to keep an eye on, and word has he’s impressed early. He’s an athletic attacking wing who could challenge for a starting position right away. I’m not entirely sure where Danya Kingsby fits in, even though he is talented. He’ll be fighting with a depth of talent at point guard and combo guard. There aren’t a lot of minutes there.

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

There are a plethora of lineups at Will Wade’s disposal, so coming up with with a starting five at this point is pretty difficult. You can count on Waters at lead guard, but the other four spots are all toss-up races. Mays and Edwards are solid incumbents, but Smart, Kingsby and Taylor all have compelling cases for time. More often than not, Bigby-Williams would figure prominently in Wade’s plans, but it’ll be practically impossible to keep Williams and Reid off the floor. Meantime, Days can play a multiple of positions. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Wade going 10-deep with his roster even late into the season.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 21-9 | KenPom Projected Record: 17 - 12

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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

This is a very navigable schedule while still appearing to be a good challenge for a young team. UNC-Greensboro is coming off an NCAA tournament trip and is the preseason favorite in the Southern Conference, but the early marquee matchup is undoubtedly the remade Memphis Tigers. U. Under the guidance of all time Memphis great Anfernee ‘Penny’ Hardaway, the Tigers have a renewed sense of self-worth after struggling for relevance under Tubby Smith. Hardaway has been in the midst of some heated recruiting battles, and while the roster isn’t where he wants, it will get there soon. I appreciated Wade’s ability to schedule local Louisiana schools but noticed Lafayette was missing after the NIT tizzy last season. LSU can significantly benefit by winning their first game of the Advocare Invitational and hoping Florida State wins theirs. The matchup would be an excellent one for the Tigers to prepare them for the SEC.

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

By now, you’ve likely heard me say how much a team’s SEC schedule can shape its chances. Well, LSU’s slate sets Wade and company up for a fast start, with four games against teams projected to finish in the bottom half of the standings. If LSU starts 4-1, their road trip to Missouri looks more negotiable now that MU is without Jontay Porter. Essentially, the front half

The Tigers’ first eight games should let them bank wins before a tough trek to Mississippi State. Facing Arkansas, Georgia and Texas A&M six times should also pad the win total. Home-and-homes with Florida and Alabama aren’t gimmes, but they’re workable for a roster as talented as this one. If Wade had control to build his team’s conference slate, it might look something like the one handed down by the home office.

OVERVIEW

Wade’s rebuild is well ahead of schedule, yielding a roster that mixes elite recruits with veterans and uses JUCO’s to round out depth. It’s easy to see why LSU landed in the preseason top 25. The Tigers have a centerpiece in Waters, a coach willing to adapt and the makings of a balanced core.

When you have an elite guard like Waters, you want to surround him with two things: athletic bigs who can catch lobs and dump offs and shooters on the outside. Wade certainly fulfilled the first part, but let’s take a look at the second part.

Mays shot 35.1 percent from deep last season, while Edwards shot 37.1 percent. Taylor’s shooting percentage at Panola College last season was 44.1 percent, a jump of 12 percentage points that makes me a little skeptical of his accuracy as a sophomore. Smart reportedly connected on 38.5 percent of his attempts during his senior season. That number can be difficult to verify, but watching film, the mechanics look solid. Darius Days has such compact mechanics I’d completely believe it if he was listed in the 40-percent range.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Louisiana State Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

LSU returns enough competent shooting, while its incoming talent looks like elite shooters. If those numbers stand up to scrutiny, Wade has taken care of the second part of surrounding an elite guard as well.

I’ve come around a bit on Wade, but I still harbor some doubt. Last season, he gave Waters the keys early on and let him learn to steer out of a skid. That seasoning should pay off in a big way this season. Still, the expectations have ramped up so quickly that it’s reasonable to wonder whether the Tigers will meet them. That’s not a criticism, either. Growth and progress aren’t linear. If LSU does live up to them, it will undoubtedly help Wade accrue more capital with a fickle fanbase.

As long as he doesn’t get further caught up with the FBI investigation, that is.


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.