Ding-dong, the witch is dead!
This blog has made no bones over our feelings about Will Wade. Wade cheated. Like, he really cheated. He got caught, LSU tried to fire him, and he lawyered up and kept his job. LSU couldn’t fire him for cause if there were no NCAA charges, so if they fired him they’d owe him the rest of his contract. And well, Wade’s cheating had bought him some good players. So LSU was a pretty good team.
But what an embarrassment for an already embarrassing athletic department. LSU has gone through a multitude of infractions and issues in recent years, so much so that the NCAA released its findings in a recent punishment case and it wasn’t even for the one Wade was involved in!
But with the allegations in, LSU was able to fire Wade for cause. Keep in mind, LSU was a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament. In five seasons, Wade made three tournaments and the Tigers were projected into a seed in the COVID year. LSU is a stronger program overall for having Wade’s consistent performance, and it helped them to be able to cut ties and go in a new direction.
Previous SEC Previews
- 8. Texas A&M Aggies
- 9. Missouri Tigers
- 10. Ole Miss Rebels
- 11. Vanderbilt Commodores
- 12. Georgia Bulldogs
- 13. South Carolina Gamecocks
- 14. Mississippi State Bulldogs
#7 LSU Tigers
Last Season: 22 - 12 (9-9 in conference) No. 21 KenPom
My Prediction: 19-11 (9-9, 7th in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 8.3 - 9.7 (7th in conference)
SEC Media Prediction: 8th in conference
KenPom Projection: 18 - 11 (8-10 in conference) No. 40
HEAD COACH: Matt McMahon | 1st Season, 0-0
Exit Will Wade. Enter, the squeaky-clean program builder from Murray State, Matt McMahon.
McMahon helmed one of the better mid-major programs in the OVC for the past 7 seasons, prior to that he was an assistant at Murray under Steve Prohm. Murray State is a springboard program for High Major hires. In 1991, Steve Newton took the South Carolina job after guiding Murray to the NCAA Tournament in three out of four years took the Texas A&M job, and Prohm left for Iowa State.
As you can see, the bag of Murray State coaches has been mixed once they’ve left the Racers. Newton was fired after two seasons, Edgar lasted three at Duquesne, but Gottfied was at Alabama for 11 seasons and NC State for six before catching heat with the NCAA. Cronin parlayed good success at Cincy into the gig at UCLA, and Billy Kennedy was up and down at Texas A&M. Prohm is back at Murray State now after initially performing well at Iowa State before pittering out.
So what’s in store for McMahon? It’s a good question. McMahon stuck around Murray for longer than the others and had two rounds of NCAA Tournament teams. His best season was last year, not the years where he had Ja Morant running the point for his program. And he should get a long leash at LSU considering where the program is coming from.
Seat Temp: FRESH
There aren’t many programs in the SEC with the kind of boom or bust nature as the LSU Tigers. John Brady took them to a Final Four and was fired two years later. There are multiple Final Fours in school history and the Hall of Fame is extensive with names like Pete Maravich, Shaquille O’Neal and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, but just six years ago Johnny Jones was leading the program to an empty season with just two wins in league play. Will Wade won the SEC two seasons later, but that was the same Wade got caught up in the FBI scheme.
SO, WHO’S GONE?
Once Wade was fired the cupboard quickly emptied and, of 13 players on scholarship, everyone went into the transfer portal except for two players. Tari Eason left for the NBA, and Darius Days graduated. But everyone else was in the portal.
Days was a rock of the program for four years, and leaves behind a really successful resume. He was a perfect complement for a Will Wade roster which usually funnels possessions to a few elite playmakers, because Days was fine not being one of those play makers. He still got his shots, and was a career 35% 3-point shooter, but his Offensive efficiency was always high since he fed off others. He was a good rebounder, a good defensive player, and leaves LSU having won 90 basketball games, and made the NCAA Tournament each season.
Cincinnati transfer Tari Eason turned into an offensive death machine and ended up the 9th most valuable player in the KenPom.com ratings last year. He had a 115.5 ORtg on 30.8% of possessions, and generated points by hitting the glass hard and getting fouled a lot. He made offense easy for a team that struggled on that end of the floor last year.
Part of the reason for the offensive struggles was Xavier Pinson, who generates a lot of possessions but had only a 41.4 eFG% last year and a 93.6 ORtg. He transferred to New Mexico State for his final year after three seasons at Missouri. Brandon Murray had a very good freshman season, as he averaged 10 points per game, and transferred to Georgetown. Eric Gaines was an electrifying defender with a bit of a rusty offensive game, and he moved onto UAB. Shareef O’Neal entered the transfer portal with one year of eligibility remaining but accepted a contract to the NBA G-League instead of another year of college.
A former 5-star center, Efton Reid, entered the portal and ended up choosing Gonzaga after starting all 34 games and averaging 6.3 points, and 4.3 rebounds. Alex Fudge was a lightly used forward and a former 4-star recruit who never quite cracked into the rotation. He transferred to Florida. Bradley Ezewiro was a 3-star post who appeared in seven games and transferred to Georgetown. Then Jerrell Colbert, who was a former top 150 prospect and a talented post, transferred to Kansas State.
Over 90% of the points left the program and need to be replaced.
THEN, WHO’S BACK?
Mwani Wilkinson | JUNIOR | WING
With some incredibly limited minutes, Mwani Wilkinson put up some of the most absurd offensive numbers as a Freshman at LSU. He posted an ORtg of 146.0, and an eFG% of 80.4! Even more wild was his 8.8 usage rate. Absurdly high efficiency with ridiculously low usage. Heading into his sophomore year it was something to watch how Wilkinson could increase his role. His minutes nearly doubled, his defense got better, and his outside shooting remained the same. But his efficiency dipped, thanks to a dip in his 2-point shooting, despite keeping his usage about the same.
As one of only two players returning who played last year, Wilkinson is a good fit for what McMahon wants to do. He’s a true wing who can space the floor and attack the rim through cuts and putbacks. Not requiring the ball in your hands to generate offense is an easy way to see the floor in an offense based around a couple ball dominant guards.
Adam Miller is probably the wildcard here. He’s a talented combo guard who was one of the top players in his class three years ago. But coming off an ACL injury is never easy, and that is Miller’s task this season. If healthy, Miller is capable of being an electric playmaker and shot-maker. He posted a 101.5 ORtg as a freshman at Illinois while playing behind Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn. Justice Williams could be a player to keep an eye on, as he reclassified into the 2021 class and should be a 2022 recruit. Entering college early is never easy, especially for a combo guard, but the former top 60 player is a gifted scoring guard who excelled as a prep when he got going downhill towards the basket.
Brandon Egemo, Adam Benhayoune, and Parker Edwards (who was a scholarship player for a year at SE Louisiana) are all walk-ons returning to the program.
AND, WHO’S NEW?
|JR||Cam Hayes||6'2||185||TRANSFER||NC State||PG|
|JR||Kendal Coleman||6'8||230||TRANSFER||Northwestern St||POST|
|JR||Derek Fountain||6'10||225||TRANSFER||Mississippi St||CF|
|SR||KJ Williams||6'10||250||TRANSFER||Murray State||POST|
|SR||Trae Hannibal||6'2||215||TRANSFER||Murray State||CG|
|SR||Justice Hill||6'0||175||TRANSFER||Murray State||PG|
K.J. Williams | SENIOR | POST
Matt McMahon is going to try an experiment where we really see what life will be like for a Murray State roster in the SEC. And it starts with K.J. Williams, the former Ohio Valley Player of the Year last season. Williams entered the NBA Draft and the transfer portal at about the same time as he was exploring his options. But Williams is a sturdy 6’10 post playing in his super senior year after having a Hall of Fame career at Murray. Over the last few seasons, he’s really blossomed as a player, never having worse than a 111.3 ORtg, a 10.7% offensive rebound rate, and last season just an 11.0% turnover rate. All that production turned into 18.4 ppg and 8.4 rpg for a team who won 31 games, the Ohio Valley conference title, and won a thrilling opening round game in the NCAA Tournament.
How Williams’ game translates will be interesting to watch, in limited opportunities his production dipped against Tier A and B teams (meaning top 50 & top 100 opponents), but he was still good. And much of his dip in production across those 5 games was likely due to his three point shooting. As a junior he shot 41.3%, but that fell to just 30.4% last season. If Williams can help extend the floor it makes LSU all that much more dangerous.
You thought I was joking about importing Murray State players, but McMahon imported three players from his roster at Murray. Williams was the star, but former Arkansas Razorback guard Justice Hill was maybe just as valuable for the Racers last year. He put up 13.4 points per contest with 5.1 assists and a 113.7 ORtg. Hill was the primary point guard, and rarely turned the ball over. He’s joined in the backcourt by former South Carolina Gamecocks guard Trae Hannibal, who averaged 9.8 points for the Racers last year, and was a reliable role player for Frank Martin’s Gamecocks for the previous two seasons.
From there, McMahon really needed to fill spots, so he signed a four-man freshman class, starting with top 40 wing Tyrell Ward. Previously, Ward was committed to Xavier, which made a coaching change, so he flipped to LSU. He’s a slender 185 pounds right now, so he may struggle with playing through contact early on, but he’s an exciting athlete who can make tough jump shots. Next is another player freed up by a coaching change, and that’s Jalen Reed. More of a traditional stretch four type, Reed was committed to Florida but opened up to LSU once Mike White took the job at Georgia. Shawn Phillips is a hefty 250 pound 6’10 center who committed and signed last in the process. And then finally there’s Cornelious Williams, who originally committed to Murray State. Williams followed McMahon to LSU and looks like he’s a little bit more of a project at this point, but he’s got good size and athleticism.
McMahon also bolstered his back court with the addition of Cam Hayes, a transfer from North Carolina State. Hayes was a top 80 player who stayed home to play for Kevin Keatts but his inconsistency kept him off the floor more than he wanted, and he began losing playing time to freshman Terquavion Smith. Derek Fountain left Mississippi State after flashing potential in segments for two seasons there. And Kendal Coleman makes the leap from Natchitoches and the Southland Conference to Baton Rouge and the SEC. However, he should be able to hold up physically with a 6’8, 230-pound frame. He was a 1st team All-Southland player and averaged 15.4 ppg and 10 rpg with an eFG of 54.8%. He is not a stretch big, though, as he’s attempted just 2 three-pointers in his two seasons of play.
|(1) Point Guard||Justice Hill||Cam Hayes|
|(2) Combo Guard||Adam Miller||Justice Williams||Trae Hannibal|
|(3) Wing||Mwani Wilkinson||Tyrell Ward|
|(4) Combo Forward||KJ Williams||Derek Fountain||Cornelious Williams|
|(5) Post||Kendal Coleman||Jalen Reed||Shawn Phillips|
The roster here has some pieces. A lot of the expectations going in are going to revolve around the Murray State crew’s ability to scale up, but they should be able to get fairly deep into the rotation without losing much. Justice Hill is a proven point guard, and if Adam Miller is healthy, he provides a secondary ball handler and creator to slot into the starting lineup. Cam Hayes and Trae Hannibal give them four capable ball handlers, with Justice Williams, Mwani Wilkinson, and Tyrell Ward able to man the wing.
Things may get a bit sticky in the post rotation, but both K.J. Williams and Derek Fountain have the size and skill level to play at the stretch forward position, while Kendal Coleman and Jalen Reed should be able to handle the remaining minutes at the 5-spot.
My Projected Record: 19-11 | KenPom Projected Record: 18-11
|Nov 9||HOME||Kansas City||295||W|
|Nov 12||HOME||Arkansas St||273||W|
|Nov 17||HOME||New Orleans||317||W|
|Nov 21||Neutral||Illinois State||215||W|
|Nov 22||Neutral||Akron / Western Kentucky||110 / 99||W|
|Dec 2||HOME||UT- Arlington||270||W|
|Dec 10||Neutral||Wake Forest||80||L|
|Dec 13||HOME||NC Central||279||W|
|Dec 21||HOME||East Tennessee State||229||W|
|Jan 28||HOME||Texas Tech||17||L|
I double checked to make sure this is right, but LSU has zero true road games in their non-conference schedule. Realistically, this is the kind of non-conference schedule where LSU really should be able to go undefeated. I’m projecting two losses because statistically they’re likely to drop one or two, but both projected losses are just as possible to be wins. Wake Forest is rebuilding a little, but Steve Forbes is a very good basketball coach. The Big 12-SEC Challenge should be a tough matchup, since Texas Tech has been a top-25 level program for the last five years running. There’s another potential hiccup at the Cayman Islands Classic, where LSU opens with Illinois State, and will face either Akron or Western Kentucky in round two. The other side of the bracket will have Nevada face off against Tulane, and Rhode Island face Kansas State. Tulane is a sneaky team here; Ron Hunter returns a lot of production for a team that will likely finish over .500 for the first time since 2013.
|Jan 7||Away||Texas A&M||45||L|
|Feb 8||Away||Mississippi State||53||L|
|Feb 11||Home||Texas A&M||45||W|
|Feb 18||Home||South Carolina||78||W|
|Feb 25||Away||Ole Miss||49||L|
If you’re looking for a reason why LSU might need that warm start in their non-conference schedule, it’s likely because the first 12 games of the SEC schedule did the Tigers no favors. On ESPN’s 2023 Bracketology the SEC has seven projected teams in right now. Of the first 12 games LSU is set to face a projected NCAA team in 10 of those games, and the two games without a projected team in the Tournament are road contests at Missouri and Mississippi State. Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama, Florida, and Texas A&M are all projected in by most bracket predictors at this point. How well LSU performs against teams believed to be NCAA Tournament level teams will determine how close they come to getting into the tournament in McMahon’s first year.
Once LSU was able to finally cleanse itself of the Will Wade era, the reconstruction had to begin. The program still has the looming NCAA infractions case to deal with, and it’s likely one of the reasons why they turned to someone like McMahon. He’s a program builder, capable of building and developing talent, and he’ll be able to work through any pitfalls which the NCAA may drop in front of him.
If there’s good news for Tiger fans, it’s that the IARP committee has already come out with a few of their results in punishments, and things have been mostly light. It seems the IARP is rewarding the programs who have changed leadership by not inflicting any postseason bans, just a few minor punishments like probationary periods and some limits to off-campus recruiting.
There are all things which are easy to deal with, so the hope is a coach with a clean record like McMahon can step in and absorb a few minor punishments and keep the train rolling in Baton Rouge. Because, for all Wade’s faults and infractions, he still won a good amount of games in his time. LSU was an NCAA Tournament team, and right now the early bracket projectors have the Tigers out.
If the projections here hold, it’s easy to see how LSU can get into the Tournament this year. The talent is there, and as we outlined, the opportunities for big wins are stacked up early in the year.
With the way the schedule lays out, it’s easy to see how LSU could be one of the surprise breakout teams. Nearly every year there’s a team nobody really expected much from who gets on a roll early and ends up making the NCAA Tournament. Most teams who are able to navigate through the tough SEC do so with high level, consistent guard play.
Without Adam Miller, LSU has good guards. Justice Hill is a good ball handler, a good shooter, a good defender. Trae Hannibal brings toughness, defense, and some shot—making. Cam Hayes has been less consistent but is still talented. But with Adam Miller, the backcourt can take another step and be one of the better groups in the SEC. I’ll add in that McMahon has long pushed a guard-oriented attack and puts his guards in great positions to win matchups.
If the guards are excelling and winning matchups, and wings like Mwani Wilkinson, Justice Williams, and Tyrell Ward are making outside shots, then you’re adding in depth at the post position like K.J. Williams and Derek Fountain... there’s no reason why this LSU team couldn’t be playing in the NCAA Tournament. That should be the expectation for this team.
Yes, McMahon is counting on production coming from an OVC school, but Hill and Williams both played for a team that finished 36th in KenPom.com. If the starting point guard and starting center came to LSU from Michigan State or USC (two teams ranked behind Murray) the projections for the Tigers are likely better.
Reasons to be OPTIMISTIC
This LSU roster has everything you need to win. Quality guard play, depth on the inside, and athletic wings who can run and defend. There may be some questions about the outside shot-making, but every player who has attempted outside jumpers consistently has made them consistently. While this may not be the best roster in the league, it’s certainly good enough to be very good and contend with the top teams.
Reasons to be PESSIMISTIC
Year 1 can always get bumpy, even for the best coaches. For one, there’s the soft non-conference schedule which does not prepare LSU for the really menacing opening 12 games of SEC play. Plus, much of the excitement written above hinges a lot of Adam Miller being the player he was expected to become, but not necessarily the player we’ve seen and the one recovering from a knee injury. If Miller is just ok, it lowers the ceiling on the Tigers a bit, because there are good players around him but there needs to be a guy who can make the difference. If Miller isn’t that guy, LSU could struggle.
About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick for 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 Masses” picks. 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.
* - 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.