#21 LSU Men's Basketball 2015-2016 Preview

LSU Tigers

2015-2016 Overall Rank: #21
Conference Rank: #2 SEC

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Last season, the LSU Tigers made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years. It was a welcome return for the fan base even though the team’s run ended before it could get rolling, with an opening loss to NC State. Twenty-two wins and a tournament berth seemed like something to build on, until realizing how drastically different this Tigers squad would look this coming season. Out are the team’s two best players. In are a slew of ridiculously talented freshmen. The upside may be higher this time around for the school, but it will take some work to get back to the level the team was at a year prior. Coach Johnny Jones won at least 18 games every year for the final six he was in charge of North Texas. Entering his fourth year at LSU, he will be hoping to make it 10 consecutive years overall reaching such heights.

2014-15 Record: 22-11, 11-7
2014-15 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Johnny Jones
Coach Record: 61-37 at LSU, 266-199 overall

Who’s Out:
LSU is going to look like a vastly different club this year compared to the team that made the NCAA Tournament as a ninth seed last season. Out are the Tigers’ top two players, Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey. Martin is now a member of the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA, having been selected 25th overall in the first round of the draft, while Mickey is on the Boston Celtics, a second-round selection by the team. The two were bruising power forwards, standing 6-10 and 6-8, respectively. They combined to average over 32 points per game last season, more than 44 percent of the team’s total. More alarmingly, they grabbed 19.1 rebounds per contest, 49 percent of LSU’s total output. They both shot over 50 percent from the floor, and Mickey specifically was a shot-blocking monster. His 3.6 blocks per game were number one in the entire country. These two guys were the heart, soul, glue and whatever else of the LSU team last season. Seldom-used backup big John Odo has also departed, thinning the front line for the Tigers just a tad more for this upcoming season.

Who’s In:
Seemingly out of nowhere, LSU brought in a monster freshman class for the 2015-16 season. Two 6-4 shooting guards enter the fray, 5-star Antonio Blakeney and 4-star Brandon Sampson. Blakeney is considered one of the top three players in his class at the position. He has a tremendously high ceiling with his athleticism, shooting confidence and defensive prowess. The knocks against him are minor. The same goes for Sampson, who brings a similar frame and skill set. The good thing for Tigers fans is LSU also managed to snag a third recruit: Ben Simmons, the number-one player in all of basketball. The slow-roll was necessary to highlight the fact that this isn’t a one-man class…even though early prognostications have Simmons as a likely top pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. He played point forward in high school, demonstrating all the skills of a man smaller than his 6-9 frame, outside of a knockdown three-point shot. If that develops, look out. He came over to the United States from Australia during high school. As he filled out and grew accustomed to the atmosphere, he began to dominate. Simmons has no trouble dribbling coast-to-coast, finishing strong inside, displaying post moves or blocking shots on the defensive end. Other than refinements and focus, there isn’t a weak spot to his game entering college.

Who to Watch:
Martin and Mickey are gone. Three high-powered freshmen are entering. The guys to keep an eye on though are the remaining holdover players from last year’s club. Keith Hornsby, Tim Quarterman, Josh Gray and Jalyn Patterson all played at least 24 minutes per game last season and finished as the top four Tigers in assists. They rounded out the team’s top-six rotation. No other Tiger played more than seven MPG. How will this group react to a change in team identity and leadership? What if all three freshmen garner huge minutes? Hornsby, Quarterman and Gray are upperclassmen. Will they be led by a couple of freshmen? Will they take on leadership roles to mentor the young stars? Is this Simmons’ team, no questions asked? There will be a fascinating dynamic at play for LSU this season. Obviously building depth is not a bad thing, and playing six deep for as long as this team did last year is not ideal. Any difficulties in personalities or chemistry, though, could submarine a talented roster.

Final Projection:
Last year’s club was anchored by a pair of great bigs and a solid guard rotation. However, it was a pretty poor shooting team, especially from the key marks: three and free-throw line. A pair of sweet-shooting freshmen could help solve that if Coach Jones can figure out an ideal rotation. The bigger problem this year will be inside. Ben Simmons will need help along the front line, especially since he isn’t solely a paint player by any means. Someone out of the returning big men will need to make a huge leap this year. None of them garnered significant minutes in 2014-15; that will change out of necessity this season, and finding a few pieces is the only way LSU will reach its potential.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA

Projected Starting Five:
Keith Hornsby, Senior, Guard, 13.4 points per game
Josh Gray, Senior, Guard, 7.1 points per game
Tim Quarterman, Junior, Guard, 11.5 points per game
Antonio Blakeney, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Ben Simmons, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season

By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 73.4 (40th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Scoring Defense: 67.7 (202, 10)
Field-Goal Percentage: 45.5 (77, 3)
Field-Goal Defense: 40.2 (53, 4)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 5.7 (232, 9)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 33.9 (191, 7)
Free-Throw Percentage: 68.4 (206, 10)
Rebound Margin: 2.3 (97, 6)
Assists Per Game: 15.6 (18, 2)
Turnovers Per Game: 14.4 (317, 13)

Madness 2016 NBA Draft Rankings:
#1 Ben Simmons
#24 Antonio Blakeney

Madness 2015 Men’s Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#2 Ben Simmons
#15 Antonio Blakeney
#52 Brandon Sampson


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