At a basketball luncheon this past season, LSU great Rudy Macklin was introduced to the audience, with a mention that he still held the school record with 32 rebounds in a game set in 1976. “Don’t worry,” LSU coach Will Wade said at the time. “We’re not going to be breaking any of your records [in 2017-18].”
What a difference a year makes. Entering his second year at LSU, Wade has virtually remade the Tigers’ roster. With what the Tigers have returning and the addition of a top-five recruiting class, anticipation for LSU basketball probably hasn’t been this high since 1989-90, when the Tigers had Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Jackson and Stanley Roberts sharing court time.
“Hopefully the other team will be reacting to us more than we will be reacting to what they’re doing,” Wade says.
For LSU, even in a stacked SEC, that almost seems a given.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Will Wade
2017-18 RECORD (SEC): 18-15 (8-10)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NIT: Lost to Utah 95-71 in the second round
F Aaron Epps (9.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
G Randy Onwuasor (4.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
C Duop Reath (12.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg)
G Brandon Sampson (7.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
Few teams could lose 6'11" and 6'10" post players and legitimately say they will be better the following year. But that is where the Tigers are after Duop Reath and Aaron Epps completed their eligibility and were replaced by a glittering set of post players.
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While the Tigers had height in 2017-18, they were still soft around the basket, ranking last in the SEC with 33.3 rebounds per game. That should hardly be the case this year with the presence of 6'10" Naz Reid, a likely one-and-done NBA Lottery pick, 6'11" Kavell Bigby-Williams (a transfer from Oregon) and intense 6'7" freshman Emmitt Williams. Both Reid and Williams are five-star prospects.
With them, plus 6'9" junior college transfer Courtese Cooper and 6'7" freshman Darius Days, the Tigers will have players they hope can rebound and block shots at a rate that at least hearkens back to the duo of Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey in 2014-15.
“We’re working on playing bigger to try to address our rebounding issues,” Wade says. “We want to play with three bigs as much as we can.”
While Wade brings in another stellar recruit in guard Ja’vonte Smart from Baton Rouge’s Scotlandville Magnet, LSU’s backcourt is still Tremont Waters’ domain.
The 5'11" sophomore put his name in the mix for the NBA Draft but eventually decided, wisely, to remain in school. A brilliant playmaker in the Jackson mold, Waters led the Tigers with 15.9 points per game and broke Ben Simmons’ freshman school record with 198 assists. He topped the 20-point mark six times in SEC play.
The question is who will play the point and who will be the shooting guard. Waters and Smart can both run the offense, as can Skylar Mays, a heady 6'4" junior who, despite being LSU’s second-leading returning scorer with 11.3 points per game, will likely have to come off the bench.
In Wade’s first year, the goal was simply to have a winning record and make it to the postseason somewhere.
Mission accomplished, as the Tigers won 18 games including one in the NIT. But now … “It’s a little different than last year,” Wade says.
Even in a stacked SEC, with LSU having to play 12 games against teams that went to the 2018 NCAA Tournament, the expectations have risen almost exponentially for the Tigers. The key could be chemistry, with so many new players expected to take on leading roles. But if things come together, the Tigers have the talent to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve got to keep the pedal to the metal and keep working hard, keep getting better,” Wade says. “Just because you’re better on paper doesn’t mean you’re going to be better on the court.”
Postseason Prediction: Two & Out
SEC Prediction: 4th