How Did We Get Here?
While six SEC schools made a coaching change after the 2021-22 season, LSU is the one that feels like it was forced to hit the reset button. The Tigers went 22-12 and made the NCAA Tournament in Will Wade’s final season, and let’s just say that Wade wasn’t fired for his record on the floor. And then ten scholarship players left the program.
Matt McMahon, hired from Murray State, had to scramble to fill out the roster — and the results were predictable. LSU’s best player was K.J. Williams, who came from Murray State with McMahon. Otherwise, the Tigers were bringing in a lot of role players from other Power 5 schools along with two more guys who came with McMahon from Murray. LSU started the season 12-1 — and then went 2-18 the rest of the way, with a home win over Vanderbilt (ugh) and a first-round SEC Tournament win over Georgia being the only triumphs.
The LSU fans I follow on Twitter already seem like they’re out on McMahon. In the meantime, have things improved for 2023-24? The Tigers have eight newcomers, and while there are some talented players in there, this still feels like the roster of a bottom-four SEC team. And I’m still not bought in on McMahon as the answer.
|Player||ORating||Min %||Poss %||PPG||RPG||APG||How left|
|Player||ORating||Min %||Poss %||PPG||RPG||APG||How left|
|Adam Miller||93.7||82.4||20.3||11.5||2.3||1.7||transfer/Arizona State|
|Cam Hayes||105.7||54.1||19.5||8.1||2.5||2.3||transfer/East Carolina|
|Justice Hill||83.8||51.4||19.9||5.6||1.6||2.7||transfer/Loyola Marymount|
|Justice Williams||85.5||27.4||16.9||3.3||1.4||1.5||transfer/Robert Morris|
|Kendal Coleman||108.8||12.7||15.8||2.3||2.1||0.1||transfer/Cal Baptist|
|Shawn Phillips||102.3||11.4||13.2||1.4||2.2||0.2||transfer/Arizona State|
|Corneilous Williams||redshirt||transfer/Western Carolina|
So: K.J. Williams is a big loss. He was LSU’s best player last season by a pretty wide margin, and a 118.3 Offensive Rating suggests he wasn’t just a numbers guy on a bad team. Between him, Adam Miller, and Cam Hayes, LSU’s top three scorers from last season are all gone.
The rest of the departures feel like roster churn more than anything, and when schools like “Robert Morris” and “Western Carolina” and “Cal Baptist” are popping up as transfer destinations for players you lost, there’s a good chance that you’re not losing much. Something that the Deion Sanders Experience (football, but still) should have taught us is that when you have a bunch of sub-replacement level players filling up your roster, replacing them in the transfer portal can turn things around.
Still... K.J. Williams is a big loss, and I’m not sure LSU has a replacement for him lined up.
LSU’s backcourt isn’t quite brand new: 6’2” fifth-year senior Trae Hannibal (6.8 ppg/4.5 rpg/2.3 apg) is a holdover who started five games last season. Adam Miller and Cam Hayes were LSU’s starting guards last season, though, and LSU went heavy on the portal to replace them.
6’0” senior Jalen Cook comes from the portal — but he actually started his career here, playing a minimal role on LSU’s 2020-21 team. Then he transferred to Tulane, where he blossomed into a star at the AAC level (19.9 ppg/2.9 rpg/4.9 apg in 2022-23), and now he’s back. 6’1” junior Carlos Stewart (15.2 ppg/2.4 rpg/2.3 apg at Santa Clara) made 40.3 percent of his threes last season. 6’6” fifth-year senior Jordan Wright (10.6 ppg/5.1 rpg/2.1 apg at Vanderbilt) is, obviously, a guy Anchor of Gold readers are familiar with. This group might actually have the makings of a solid backcourt, though I have questions about whether Stewart in particular is ready for the jump from the WCC to the SEC — but Cook and Wright are proven commodities.
The lone freshman here is 6’3” Mike Williams, a point guard from Baltimore who was ranked #166 in the 247 Sports composite who probably won’t have much of an impact this season.
LSU has reason to feel good about its backcourt, but things up front are much more unsettled.
The main returning piece is 6’10” senior Derek Fountain (8.0 ppg/5.5 rpg/0.8 apg), who started 23 games last season and was pretty efficient (115.5 Offensive Rating.) Of course, that was with Williams drawing most of the attention and this feels like a “this is his upside” situation more than a “this guy is about to make a jump.” LSU also has a couple of sophomore returnees in 6’10” Jalen Reed (3.7 ppg/3.2 rpg/0.4 apg) and 6’6” Tyrell Ward (3.7 ppg/1.5 rpg/0.5 apg), both of whom were top 100 recruits in the 2022 class. 6’5” senior Mwani Wilkinson (2.6 ppg/1.6 rpg/0.8 apg) is now the lone remaining holdover from the Will Wade era.
Three incoming transfers and a freshman will supplement the returnees. 7’0” redshirt senior Will Baker (13.6 ppg/5.2 rpg/0.8 apg at Nevada) is a big body who shot 35.5 percent from three last season and should start immediately at LSU. 6’9” junior Daimion Collins (1.9 ppg/1.9 rpg/0.2 apg at Kentucky) is a former five-star looking for a fresh start after struggling to find playing time in two seasons at Kentucky. 6’10” fifth-year Hunter Dean (8.7 ppg/6.1 rpg/1.1 apg at George Washington) is probably depth at this level. 6’8” freshman Corey Chest was ranked as the #121 recruit in the 247 Sports composite and will likely be an emergency player this season.
I feel pretty confident about four of the five starters, with Cook, Stewart, and Wright working as effectively a three-guard offense (Wright isn’t really a guard, we know this, but LSU has him listed as one) and Baker starting up front. Whether LSU rolls with the holdover Fountain or bets on Collins’ talent is the one question mark here.
I’m less sure how to sort out the frontcourt beyond Baker just in general. Tyrell Ward and Jalen Reed are former top-100 recruits who are rising sophomores; the additions of Wright and Baker will impede their playing time for another year.
LSU didn’t play around with its buy games, with five teams ranked outside the top 300 in KenPom and two more outside the top 200. That should pad the record, but LSU might have overscheduled its non-buy games: two Elite Eight teams from last season in Kansas State (home, December 9) and Texas (in Houston, December 16) along with the ESPN-mandated trip to Syracuse (November 28) as part of the ACC/SEC Challenge. The Charleston Classic field (November 16-19) will have them playing Dayton in the first round, St. John’s or North Texas in the second, and one of Houston, Towson, Utah, and Wake Forest in the last game — LSU probably isn’t the worst team in that field, but going 1-2 seems likely.
In SEC play, LSU draws Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas A&M twice. That’s tough. They also draw Vanderbilt and Georgia twice — less tough, but it still feels like the schedule isn’t doing them any favors.
McMahon, like Lamont Paris at South Carolina, is another second-year coach I’m not sure about. Sure, he went 154-67 in seven years at Murray State, but (a) everybody wins at Murray State (seriously, they’ve had three non-winning seasons since 1980, and uh, McMahon was responsible for two of them) and (b) he had Ja Morant on the team for two seasons. And while his first-year struggles were pretty heavily influenced by having to flip basically the entire roster, the team felt very much in disarray throughout SEC play — it’s one thing to have a team that’s simply overmatched and quite another to have a team that’s down 37 at halftime against Alabama. Last year’s team didn’t feel like “goes 2-16 in the SEC” bad and yet that’s exactly what LSU did.
In the meantime, has the roster really improved? Jalen Cook, Jordan Wright, and Will Baker are fine additions to the roster, but keep in mind that this is a team that lost its top three scorers from a year ago — so these guys aren’t supplementing returning talent but replacing departed starters. K.J. Williams is a big loss, and even with Williams the lack of rim protection was a glaring problem that led to the SEC’s worst defense, and that hasn’t been shored up at all — Baker averaged 0.3 blocks per game at Nevada.
LSU should be improved, but it’s hard to look at this roster and see anything much better than a bottom-four SEC team.
Season prediction: 14-17 (5-13 SEC)