Key Departures: Cam Thomas (NBA); Trendon Watford (NBA); Javonte Smart (NBA); Aundre Hyatt (–>Rutgers); Josh LeBlanc (–>UAB); Jalen Cook (–>Tulane)
New In Town: Xavier Pinson (<–Mizzou); Adam Miller (<–Illinois); Tari Eason (<–Cincy); Efton Reid (#26); Justice Williams (#54); Brandon Murray (#81); Jerrell Colbert (#131); Bradley Ezewiro (#264)
State of the Program:
Will Wade is the joker of college basketball in my mind right now, and as a fan I root against LSU at this stage with every fiber of my being. However, I will attempt to separate my emotional disdain for this entire program and objectively preview how LSU will look this season. A year ago the Tigers were all offense, all flash, and absolutely zero defense. They were able to take that run and gun style to the big dance and win a game, before getting out toughed and out classed by Michigan in the 2nd round. They are set to lose 4 of their 5 leading scorers with the lone returner being PF Darius Days (SR). Objectively, that is a ridiculous amount of talent to try and replace and despite a large group incoming I’m not convinced there’s enough firepower to recreate the top-10 offense they have had over the last couple of seasons. And what is more troubling is the defense, where they’ve ranked 179th and 124th the last two seasons. If you’re set to get worse on offense and you’re already a terrible defensive program that spells a major step backwards in my mind. They do get back a few role players alongside Days including Mwani Wilkinson (SO), Eric Gaines (SO) and Shareef O’Neal (JR). The incoming group is large and has huge holes to fill.
Leading the incoming group of transfers is Mizzou transfer G Xavier Pinson (SR). Pinson grew his game YOY with Mizzou, ultimately starting 49 games over 88 appearances and averaging 13 ½ points in his final season with the Tigers. He should come in and start as his scoring ability when attacking downhill will be important for this offense reliant team. The other G looking to come in and start is Adam Miller (SO) out of Illinois. The southpaw is a good shooter, who is a good athlete that can attack the basket off the dribble as well. He will enjoy the wide open offensive style of Wade, and his shooting ability is desperately needed. 6’8” F Tari Eason (SO) was a surprise All-Freshman selection in the AAC last year after putting up good numbers off the bench for the Bearcats. He was a good defensive player and a slasher on offense that rebounded at a high level. He excels in and around the paint, and should serve as a backup behind Days at the 4 this season. 7-footer Efton Reid (#26) leads this group of FR as a traditional big with a ton of upside. He moves well for a kid his size, and finishes well inside and is a good shot blocker. His offensive game is raw but with his size and athleticism he can still be very impactful while that part of his game develops. He should come in and start at the 5 next to Days in the frontcourt. 6’3” G Justice Williams (#54) reclassified to add another weapon to this Tigers roster and comes in as an incredibly gifted scorer. He may need a year to blossom at this level, but his tools on the offensive end are sharp at all 3 levels, and he should develop into an all-conference G in the future for LSU. Another G enters the program as a gifted scorer in 6’5” Brandon Murray (#81). He excels more so on the attack, especially in transition as he is a stocky G that plays with physicality and is willing to seek out contact. His jumper isn’t as developed as Williams at this stage but his physical style of play gives him a similar ceiling in due time. The other 2 FR will find themselves buried and figure to redshirt, so we’ll revisit them next year.
For Wade this will be a tough year as he’s trying to replace a ton of talent and doesn’t have the sure-fire NBA picks to help buoy the roster like he’s had in the past. Days will be a force inside, and alongside of Reid will form a very dangerous frontcourt. Where the weakness lies is in the backcourt, as you’re going from NBA level talent to transfers who did not wow in their previous stints. They will undoubtedly take steps backwards on the offensive end, as they’ll be desperately looking for playmaking. The trio of Pinson, Miller and Wilkinson are frankly just not comparable to last year’s backcourt of Thomas, Smart and Hyatt so scoring is just going to be more difficult this season. I would normally say a team with this much size and athleticism should be a good to great defensive team, but Wade has proven to believe the best strategy is just to out run and out gun opponents and forego the defensive end. If they don’t improve defensively they likely are a fringe tourney team, who will not be able to compete with the heavyweights in the SEC.