It's game day Tiger fans as head coach Johnny Jones and the LSU men's basketball team welcome the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos to the PMac for the opening game of the 2012-2013 NCAA basketball season. The LSU Tigers are looking to start the season off on the right foot with a win over another team that is in transition. The Gauchos are coming off a good but not great 20-11 year in the Big West conference. Their season ended with as much of a thud as LSU's did, as they fell in the first round of the CBI tournament to Idaho. UCSB did have a good run to the Big West championship game, but the third time was not the charm. Casper Ware and Long Beach beat them for the third time to deny them an NCAA tournament bid.
If this game was played last year, LSU might have started the year 0-1. UCSB's dynamite shooter Orlando Johnson is now a member of the Indiana Pacers, and a lot of their other seniors are gone as well. Sophomore Alan Williams is virtually the only returning player that provided any production to last year's team, though he did have a solid freshman year and averaged nearly 7 points and 7 rebounds a game. UCSB welcomes five new players to the 2012-2013 team, so it's safe to say that they will likely have a rocky season this year unless they are able to find a diamond in the rough.
LSU, on the other hand, isn't in all that different of a place. Trent Johnson finished his fourth season at LSU with a hardfought loss to the eventual NCAA champion Kentucky Wildcats and another loss to the Oregon Ducks in Eugene. There was some optimism going into this season if he was able to keep the team together since LSU made a huge leap in the standings and was quite competitive in the SEC all season long.
Things changed quickly however, as Justin Hamilton decided to go to the NBA and was eventually drafted by the Miami Heat. Trent Johnson started to feel the pressure of the LSU fanbase and decided to go to a safe haven at TCU. Every assistant coach followed him. There were numerous rumors that much more of the team would leave, though sophomore Ralston Turner was the only player to voluntarily transfer and he chose to go to North Carolina State. John Isaac was dismissed for NCAA violations and it appears likely that his D1 playing career is over. Chris Bass, Storm Warren, and Malcolm White all moved on after exhausting their eligibility and graduated.
So here we are now. LSU is almost a completely different team. Completely new coaches, quite a few new players, and even some new SEC opponents this year that LSU will have four(maybe more) games against. Johnny Jones was able to bring in quite a few newcomers who we have already been introduced to, but we will finally get to see what they can do tonight in the PMAC.
Normally, I mention a few key players or statistics to watch for, but frankly, there's nothing that stands out. It's a totally new team, style of play, coach, and era. Everything is new, and there's a lot to look forward to. I think LSU has an overall talent advantage to take care of UCSB and pretty much everyone else on the schedule until SEC play starts. One minor detail will be Anthony Hickey, however. After sitting out the exhibition games for team rules violations we will have to see if he starts and/or plays tonight.
Gametime is set for 7:00 CT. The game will not be televised anywhere except for the Geauxzone, so if you don't subscribe to that you will have to imagine it or listen to it on the radio. LSU is currently an 9.5 point favorite, while the over/under is set at 127. LSU opened as 5.5 point favorites, so a lot of money is going on the Tigers. I agree with the bettors, I think LSU cruises to victory tonight.