LSU basketball preview: Deeper team should be SEC contender
LSU keeps stocking up with highly-regarded recruits.
Two years ago it signed guard Javonte Smart, who’s now a seond-team preseason All-SEC player.
Last year it was forward Trendon Watford, who’s now a first-team preseason All-SEC player.
And now 3 top-100 recruits, led by 5-star shooting guard Cameron Thomas out of prep power Oak Hill Academy, have arrived to join a potential SEC championship contender. The Tigers, 21-10 and 12-6 a year ago, were picked to finish 3rd in the SEC preseason poll.
Smart and Watford as well as Darius Days and Charles Manning Jr. are among 7 returning players from last year’s team. Thomas is among 7 recruits joining the Tigers to make coach Will Wade’s 4th LSU team his deepest one.
Two other newcomers – guard Jalen Cook and forward Mwani Wilkinson – are keys to Wade’s revamped defense after the Tigers finished 11th in the SEC and 281st nationally with an average of 73.3 points allowed last season.
Other notable recruits include guard Eric Gaines and forward Shareef O’Neal, a transfer from UCLA and son of former LSU and NBA great Shaquille O’Neal, who has received an NCAA waiver that makes him eligible this season.
Wade has praised Cook for his abilities as an on-the-ball defender and Wilkinson for his defensive IQ.
That should help the Tigers as Wade plans to press more and find a better balance between aggressive defense and smart defense. The coach hinted that LSU might play more straight zone as well as match-up zone.
This team appears as talented as any Wade has had and time will tell how well he is able to harness that talent into a more cohesive unit.
Even though the Tigers tied for second in the SEC last season, Wade took responsibility for what he called a step back from LSU’s SEC title two years ago.
Here’s a closer look at LSU:
F Trendon Watford averaged 13.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists last season and his 48.9 field-goal percentage was 6th-best in the SEC. Look for him to be noticeably better this season.
Thomas is the all-time leading scorer at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, which has produced numerous college and NBA standouts. His shooting ability and elite free-throw shooting should make him one of the top scorers in the SEC.
Scoring balance. The Tigers were 4th in the country in offensive efficiency and 9th on scoring average last season and Watford’s continued development and the talented newcomers could make them even better.
Team defense. The Tigers ranked 179th in the country in defensive efficiency last season, which is why Wade decided to revamp his approach on that end of the court. He has the tools to eliminate this weakness and perhaps even make it a strength.
Regular season prediction
The Tigers should be in contention for the conference title all the way and be headed back to the NCAA Tournament one way or another. The real goal should be to get back to the Sweet 16 for the 2nd time in 3 seasons.