LSU basketball: The ultimate preview for 2021-22 season
LSU has very few returning players on its men’s basketball roster.
But the Tigers should be able to maintain the level of success they have mostly had during coach Will Wade’s previous 4 seasons.
They have just 1 returning starter, but he’s a really good one – Preseason All-SEC forward Darius Days.
One of their key newcomers – transfer Adam Miller – has been lost for the season due to a torn ACL, but they have 2 other notable transfers in G Xavier Pinson (Missouri) and F Tari Eason (Cincinnati).
Five players transferred out of the program after last season – but LSU has the No. 6 recruiting class in the country, featuring 4 players, most notably 5-star center Efton Reid.
“I like what we have,” said Wade, whose teams have an SEC-best 39 conference wins during the lpast 3 seasons. “Every year is fun. Every year is a different puzzle.
“You’ve got to put the pieces to the puzzle together. I’m excited about the opportunity to coach these guys and the opportunity to put this puzzle together.”
Only 4 players played regular minutes for LSU last season, but the group makes up for what it lacks in continuity with talent.
“I feel comfortable with the 8 guys that are going to be in the rotation,” Wade said. “All of them are going to get really good minutes.
The Tigers were picked 6th in the SEC preseason poll and are not in the AP preseason Top 25.
Best player: F Darius Days
He joined teammates Cameron Thomas, Javonte Smart and Trendon Warford in testing the NBA waters, but unlike the other 3, he chose to return for another season.
He is the most experienced Tiger, the most accomplished one and the best versed in Wade’s system. He should be 1 of the top players in the SEC this season.
“He’s been through a lot with us,” Wade added. “He believed in us when there wasn’t a whole lot to believe in. We were selling a hope and a dream — a prayer, really. He’s able to really help us and translate things for the rest of the team.”
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Days has played in 94 games at LSU and his scoring and rebounding averages have increased each season. There’s every reason to believe that trend will continue in his final season.
“I want to showcase things I haven’t shown before at LSU,” Days said. “I definitely want to be in the mix for (SEC) Player of the Year.”
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Biggest strength: Scoring
LSU lost a lot of production from its 81.8 scoring average last season with Thomas, Smart and Watford leaving and taking a combined 53.3 points per game with them, but it still has plenty of offensive talent.
Reid’s ability to score inside and from long range led Wade to describe him as a European-type center.
Days has evolved into a similarly versatile scoring during the course of his career. Last season he shot 52% from the floor and made 52 3-pointers.
Wade said he has been impressed by Pinson’s ability at the point. Pinson’s 3 years of experience at Missouri should help him facilitate a versatile offense.
Biggest weakness: Defense
The Tigers won a lot of shootouts last season, but when they struggled it was usually because they couldn’t get enough stops. LSU averaged 81.8 points per game last season — 10th in the country. But the Tigers ranked 286th out of 347 teams in points allowed, giving up more than 75 per game.
With a new group learning to play together the communication on defense will be a work in progress – at least in the early part of the season.
Sophomore F Mwani Wilkinson provides a defensive presence as does Eason.
“I’m excited to show that we can play defense,” Days said.
Key to the season: Being tougher
Wade’s teams have been able to score. In fact, their offense has been good enough to overcome erratic defense and rebounding.
This team should be able to maintain the offensive success, but it’s not going to distinguish itself unless it defends and rebounds better.
Wade seems confident that is going to happen.
“We’re scrappier,” he said. “I think it’s going to be good – blue collar, gritty, doing the little things better than we’ve done them. I think one of the big strengths of our team is our versatility.”
Scouting the backcourt
Wade said Pinson, who was selected to the preseason All-SEC second team, has been better than he expected even after Pinson averaged 13.6 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists last season at Missouri.
“He’s been a huge surprise,” Wade said. “I knew he was a good basketball player, but just being able to play point guard, pass and see the floor. He’s been through it, he’s a great teammate. He’s got a great way about him.
“Our team loves him. In a short amount of time, we’ve built a certain amount of trust. You feel like he’s in control when he’s out there. He’s going to be really good for us.”
Eric Gaines, a holdover, and a freshman, Brandon Murray, provide depth.
Another freshman, Justice Williams, is expected to redshirt.
Scouting the frontcourt
Wade has called Reid “extremely skilled,” adding that “he has a lot of offensive weapons.”
As a center who can play on the block and the perimeter, he should be an excellent complement to Days.
Eason was an All-AAC freshman at Cincinnati last season, averaging 7.3 points and 5.9 rebounds. He’s expected to bring an inside defensive presence off the bench.
Two other freshmen – C Jerrell Colbert and F Bradley Ezewiro – should have an impact on the frontcourt along with Mwane Wilkinson, who Wade said has improved significantly since last season.
Alex Fudge, a 6-8 small forward, whose athleticism has impressed Wade.
“Our frontcourt is tremendous,” Wade said.
Predicting how far they’ll go in March: NCAA Tournament
The Tigers will compete for the SEC title but won’t be good enough to win it. They’ll easily get an NCAA bid and defeat a lower seed in their first game, then lose to a higher seed in their second.