LSU basketball preview: 10 things to know (and a prediction) about the 2022-2023 season
There is very little that is familiar about the LSU men’s basketball team going into the 2022-23 season.
The Tigers have a new coach (Matt McMahon), an almost entirely new roster and uncertainty about what to expect after NCAA Tournament appearances had started to come with regularity for former coach Will Wade.
McMahon’s first LSU roster has talent, but whether the team can jell well enough to reach the 68-team tournament field remains to be seen.
Here are 10 things to know (and a prediction) about the upcoming season:
The new coach
McMahon comes in from Murray State to succeed Wade, who was fired during last season because of his role in recruiting that has been the subject of an ongoing NCAA investigation.
The 44-year-old head man led the Racers in the Ohio Valley Conference for the past 7 seasons and before that he was an assistant there for Steve Prohm.
As the head coach McMahon won at a 70 percent clip and took the Racers to the NCAA Tournament in 3 of the 6 seasons in which the tournament was held.
Virtually every scholarship player from last season is gone.
Darius Days graduated, Tari Eason left for the NBA and 11 others entered the transfer portal.
In the end, players that are no longer a part of the program were responsible for 90 percent of the points the Tigers scored last season.
Guard Adam Miller was expected to be a significant contributor last season, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason. So he would be seen as a significant returner if he had been healthy enough to participate last season.
The 6-foot-3 combo guard was one of the top players in his recruiting class when he signed with Illinois 3 years ago. He played 1 season with the Fighting Illini, notching 8.3 points a game as the No. 5 freshman scorer in the Big 10, before transferring to LSU.
McMahon praises Miller for his “high basketball IQ,” as well as for the work he has put in to get to where he is in his rehabilitation. The coach said he expects Miller to emerge as one of the leaders on a team that is figuring out who its leaders are.
The few familiar faces
Junior forward Mwani Wilkinson has been a solid role player for 2 seasons.
He is 1 of 2 returning players who played last year.
The Tigers also have 3 returning players who are walk-ons – Brandon Egemo, Adam Benhayoune and Parker Edwards (who was a scholarship player for a year at Southeastern Louisiana).
The OVC Player of the Year
McMahon brought with him the reigning Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year – 6-10 center K.J. Williams, who withdrew from for the NBA Draft and then entered the transfer portal before deciding to follow his coach to Baton Rouge.
It remains to be seen how being the top player in the OVC translates into success in the Southeastern Conference, but Williams gives McMahon a significant building block.
Last season Williams averaged 18 points and 8.4 rebounds for a conference champion that won 31 games, including a first-round victory in the NCAA Tournament.
More former Racers
Williams isn’t the only Murray State transplant McMahon brought with him. The others are point guard Justice Hill (13.4 points a game and 5.1 assists a game), originally from Little Rock, Ark., and Trae Hannibal (9.2 points a game), who also has SEC experience after playing his first two college seasons at South Carolina.
Justice brings ball handling, shooting and defense to the backcourt and Hannibal brings toughness and defense primarily.
McMahon didn’t limit his transfer acquisitions to his previous program.
He also brought in junior guard Cam Hayes from N.C. State, junior forward Derek Fountain from Mississippi State and junior center Kendal Coleman (15.4 points a game, 10 rebounds a game, 54.8 field goal percentage) from Northwestern State, where he was a first team all-Southland Conference honoree.
McMahon needed experienced players to lead a group capable of competing in the SEC, but he filled out his roster with 4 high-school recruits, one of which, Corneilous Williams, originally committed to the coach at Murray State.
Forward Tyrell Ward flipped from Xavier, forward Shawn Phillips flipped from Florida and forward Jalen Reed, whose father Justin Reed was the SEC freshman of the year in 2001, an All-American and a four-time All-SEC selection at Ole Miss.
NCAA probe continues
LSU still awaits the resolution of the NCAA investigation that led to Wade’s firing.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey called the years-long duration of the investigation “enormously frustrating” during SEC media days last month.
Weak non-conference schedule
LSU’s early-season schedule provides an opportunity for McMahon’s team to stack wins while the players get to know one another.
However, the schedule, which features no true road games, might be lacking in preparation for the rigors of SEC play and strengthening the team’s résumé for any possibility of a NCAA tournament bid down the road.
The Tigers were picked to finish 8th in the SEC preseason poll.
The middle-of-the-pack projection tracks with the uncertainty surrounding the team. But the talent on hand and the potential for confidence-building wins early offer a chance to exceed that.
… and a prediction
The Tigers will run off a series of wins early, pull off a couple of SEC upsets and lose a couple of head-scratchers.
In the end they will be a middle-of-the-pack SEC team that extends its season – in the NIT.