As hard as it is to believe, college basketball tips off in just about one month from now, with the "Champions Classic" getting things rolling on November 9th at Madison Square Garden.
And to get you ready for the season, Aaron Torres Online will be giving you 30 previews in the coming 30 days to get you ready for the start of the year, all written by college basketball nut and recruiting guru Jacob Polacheck.
On Wednesday we began the series with the Indiana Hoosiers, and today, we look at the LSU Tigers. Cam Thomas, Trendon Watford and Javonte Smart are gone, but the Tigers have reloaded through the portal and once again look like a threat in the loaded SEC.
Also to read Aaron's preseason Top 25 - click here
How it went down in 2020-21
Say what you will about the 2020-21 LSU Tigers, but they could score the ball. Led by first-team All-SEC selection Cameron Thomas, LSU ranked eighth in the nation in scoring with 82.1 points per game.
Yet, Will Wade’s squad was only able to finish with a 19-10 record, largely due to the team’s defensive woes.
The team ranked 312th in the nation in rebound rate and 241st in two-point defense, LSU was unable to sustain continued success. The Tigers went 5-1 in non-conference play with its only loss coming against Saint Louis on Nov. 28. In conference play, the Tigers were respectable, going 11-6 in the regular season for a 16-8 record overall. After beating Ole Miss and Arkansas in the SEC Tournament, the Tigers fell to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, their third loss to the Crimson Tide on the year.
With a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers were able to defeat Saint Bonaventure 76-61 behind Cam Thomas’ game-high 27 points, but were unable to stop the high-scoring Michigan Wolverines in the second round, despite Thomas’ 30 points, losing 78-86.
LSU showed glimpses of Final Four potential throughout the season, but the team’s inability on defense proved to the Tigers’ biggest downfall.
What You Need to Know About 2021-2022:
Key Returnees: Darius Days, Eric Gaines, Mwani Wilkinson, Shareef O’Neal
Key Losses: Cameron Thomas, Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford, Aundre Hyatt, Josh LeBlanc
Key Transfers: Adam Miller, Xavier Pinson, Tari Eason
Key Recruits: Efton Reid, Jerrell Colbert, Brandon Murray, Justice Williams
This year’s LSU Tigers team is going to look a lot different than last year’s squad, with only one full-time starter returning in Darius Days. After averaging 11.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in 2020-21, Days is a key frontcourt piece to this squad, but the question is where does the rest of this team's scoring come from? Thomas, Watford and Smart combined to average over 53 points per game, and the big question is, how do they replace it?
The good news is, Wade was very active in the portal last off-season, signing two backcourt players that should contribute immediately. Xavier Pinson arrives from SEC-rival Missouri after averaging 14 points per game, and will need to bring that same offensive output in Baton Rouge. Same with Adam Miller, a former Top 30 recruit, who arrives from Illinois. He averaged 8.3 per game as a freshman on a team that was a national title contender and came to LSU looking for an even bigger role. The backcourt production should be rounded out by Eric Gaines, who showed flashes as a freshman last year, including a 10-point performance in an SEC Tournament win over Arkansas.
With Watford now with the Portland Trailblazers, the burden of frontcourt scoring not only falls on Days, but others as well. Shareef O'Neal is hoping to finally live up to his status as a former four-star recruit in the 2018 high school class, while the additions of Cincinnati transfer Tari Eason and five-star center Efton Reid, the frontcourt is going to be a vital piece to LSU improving on the defensive end.
Starting with the out of conference portion of the slate, well, it's not pretty. In total, the Tigers play just four teams that come from power six conferences, and none really project to be NCAA Tournament teams this year. They head to the Emerald Classic in late November where they'll face Penn State in its first year under Micah Shrewsberry, and then if they win get either Wake Forest or Oregon State. The Beavers, to their credit, made the Elite Eight last year but lose leading scorer Ethan Thompson, and Wake Forest is still under major rebuild with Steve Forbes at the helm. From there, they also face Georgia Tech in a "neutral" site game in Atlanta, and TCU in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.
As a matter of fact, their toughest actual out of conference game might actually be Belmont who returns everyone off a 24-3 squad last year.
Why do we bring all this up? It's to say that LSU won't really have much of a chance to build an impressive resume out of conference, and to be blunt, they better win just about all these games. On paper, it doesn't look like there is a lot of room to pick up "good wins" - so they better not take bad losses.
Then there is the SEC - and let's just say, umm, it's the opposite. Clearly the SEC office has no love for Will Wade. Of their first seven SEC games, six come against teams who made the NCAA Tournament last year, and the one opponent that didn't is Auburn, who many prognosticators (including Aaron Torres) have in their preseason Top 25.
It's also worth noting that they play Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee twice in the conference slate - arguably the four best teams in the league, all of which could start the year ranked in the Top 20.
The good news: For as bad as the out of conference portion slate is, there will be ample opportunities to pick up good wins in league play.
The problem of course: Is that you have to play Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Alabama twice.
What to Expect in 2021-2022
LSU is once again in great position to make another NCAA Tournament run, but with a number of new pieces, it’s still unclear how it will all fit together.
If Pinson and Miller can replicate the production of Thomas and Smart while Reid and Eason become forces in the paint, this team could be in good position to make a run in the SEC. Expect much of the same from last year, still with a number of players set to return, but the new additions will be crucial in putting LSU over the top.
If Reid can break out and show flashes of his five-star potential, while Pinson and Miller pick up the scoring load, LSU will be fit to improve from last year’s roster.
If it all comes together, a second Sweet 16 run in the Will Wade era could be in the cards.
For more college hoops coverage, make sure to follow Jacob Polacheck on Twitter @JacobPolacheck
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