By - John Vasington
For years now, the norm around Baton Rouge has been that "football is king". In 2012, Johnny Jones was hired out of North Texas to replace Trent Johnson as men's basketball coach and hopefully change that mentality. Last year, the squad improved to 19-12 from an 18-15 record in 2011-12. That certainly marks progress, but not enough for faithful Tiger fans.
Returning four out of five starters from last year's roster, the
prospects look good for this season. 6'9" F Johnny O'Bryant III, the
team's points (13.6 ppg) and rebounds (8.7 rpg) leader last year, is now
a Junior and looks to become a team role model this season. Other
returning starters consist of 5'10" G Andre Stringer, 5'11" G Anthony
Hickey, and 6'5" F Shavon Coleman. Clearly, this year's team will not be
one of overwhelming size.
Perhaps the brightest spot in last season's awakening was the fantastic recruiting job Jones did. Jones hauled in one of the top classes in the SEC last season, landing three "ESPN Top 100 Recruits": 6'7" F Jarrell Martin; 6'8" F Jordan Mickey; and 6'5" G Tim Quarterman. Other additions to the stellar class included 6'6" F Brian Bridgewater and 6'11" JUCO transfer C John Odo. All five of these newcomers will look to add minutes and depth to an experienced Tigers team.
With a lack of size, Jones will look to build on the program's growing reputation of being a team of intense defensive pressure. The squad recorded 9.1 steals per game last year, which was good for 8th best in the country. John Odo will have a lot of pressure on him in his first year to be able to lock down the paint against physical big men. Fortunately, the SEC doesn't currently have any "dominant" big men.
The only player who may be deserving of that title is Kentucky's freshman F, 6'9" Julius Randle. But Randle is still yet to play a game at the collegiate level, leaving a lot of room for debate. Assuming nothing unforeseen happens; LSU should match up very well with their conference competition, hopefully making for some very close games.
The SEC conference recently has only sent threeor four teams to the big dance come March. With basketball powerhouses Florida and Kentucky likely making the tournament, that leaves one or two spots for the rest of the SEC to fight over. While it is not impossible for the Tigers to earn one of these spots, it is very unlikely this season.
Last year, the Tigers finished tied for 8th in the conference over the regular season. This lack-luster finish was largely due to the team's 3-6 conference record in away games. Road success typically comes with experience, and there will be a lot of that this season for the Tigers. There is no denying that the team must improve on last year's road performance if they even want a shot at a long postseason.
Additionally, they have a very easy out of conference schedule, which is typically used against teams come selection Sunday. Not to mention that SEC rivals Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Missouri all look to be very good this year. Nonetheless, even if LSU doesn't get a Tourney bid this year, things are still looking up in Baton Rouge, and the next chapter of LSU basketball is only beginning to be written.
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