With so many recent changes in the LSU basketball team and program, I must first apologize for the lack of updates on that matter. Having finished classes I now have the time for a complete update on everything LSU, SEC, and NCAA basketball. Plenty of changes are still to come, but it's likely that most of them won't really affect LSU all that much. First up, a quick rundown of the departures from the team and what it means for the team going forward.
Justin Hamilton - The first, and perhaps most important, player to leave the LSU team is the starting center and likely team MVP. Hamilton had a spectacular first season with the Tigers, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding. He was always quite efficient on both ends of the floor, rarely fouling out and rarely missing easy shots. Perhaps the most memorable shot he made was a 3 pointer against Mississippi State in overtime to keep the Tigers tied in a game they later won.
Hamilton declared for the NBA draft, though it is unlikely that a team will select him with a draft pick. Draft rankings have him as a 60th-ish ranked player, which is on the fringe of being draft. Normally though, teams tend to select foreign draft projects as opposed to college players. Hamilton should be given a chance to try out with NBA teams, though he is OK with going overseas to play if he can't find a spot on an NBA roster.
Storm Warren - Unlike the other players on this list, Warren is the one of two players to play all four years at LSU. In the time when the basketball wasn't very good, Warren was the only one that stuck it out and worked though it, though he wasn't able to live up to the expectations that were set after his great freshman season. Warren likely won't be drafted by an NBA team, but may be good enough to stick around in the D league and/or play abroad.
Malcolm White - The second senior to graduate and leave the LSU program is Malcolm White. After first playing for the Ole Miss Rebels, the center had a change of heart and decided to come to the rival Tigers for his remaining two seasons. Overall, I would say that his career was quite underwhelming, as he was never nearly as talented as other SEC centers. His role on the team went from starter to rarely used back up over the last two seasons, and it's not a huge loss now that he is no longer playing for the team.
Chris Bass - The third and final graduating player is the career back up point guard Chris Bass. Fans may have been expecting much better from him because he is Brandon's brother, but it's unlikely that he would have even ended up at LSU if not for his brother. He played his entire career at LSU without ever developing a consistent jumpshot, and simply wasn't talented enough to play at the SEC level. He had some good games and generally played fundamentally sound, but it wasn't enough for the level of competition.
Ralston Turner - The first player to transfer from LSU was Turner, who has chosen to play for former Alabama coach Mark Gottfried at NC State. Turner had a rather disappointing year for the Tigers, as he struggled to shoot the ball and defend. At the end of the year he started to play better, but it was too little, too late, as his LSU career ended with a blowout loss to Oregon.
Losing Turner can be considered a crippling loss, mostly because LSU is losing and gaining a lot of players. His experience would have been needed for the final two season's had he stayed at LSU. Talent wise, he's also rated higher than any of the players that I will introduce later are currently. Overall, there's no real bright side for losing Turner, since I still think he could have been LSU's best player.
John Isaac - The final player leaving the LSU program is freshman John Isaac. The backup shooting guard is leaving for the somewhat mysterious "NCAA and institutional ineligibility", which likely means that he won't be playing at all next season. Two possible reasons are that he did not meet grade requirements or he failed an NCAA mandated drug test. My guess is the drug test, simply because summer sessions can allow players to get eligibility back quicker than a year time frame. Failures for NCAA drug tests are 1 year. I think it's unlikely Isaac returns to LSU and a tough situation for Isaac.
Trent Johnson (and assistant coaches) - Perhaps the biggest news of the downtime was the decision by Trent Johnson to take a quasi-step down and head over to TCU and the Big 12. Love him or hate him, at first it looked like it was a move that would set LSU back at least a year. He left the school in better shape than when he found it in terms of academic standing, and even with increased scrutiny on academics, LSU will be postseason eligible. All of his assistant coaches followed him, allowing replacement Johnny Jones to bring in his own coaches without terminating someone's job.
Johnny Jones - LSU made a relatively quick hire, one that I thought they would make from day 1, and chose former assistant coach and player Johnny Jones to become the head basketball coach. In terms of grading, I would give it a C, simply because I think LSU has the money to get a big name coach and is in a conference that generally throws it's weight around. It's not a failure, because Jones has had success, but he's taking a huge step up going from North Texas to LSU. Luckily for him, he was able to make a very good hire.
Robert Kirby - The only assistant that I will write about is Robert Kirby, the former Georgetown and Mississippi State assistant. Kirby has been a very good recruiter for many years, as evident by the talent that Mississippi State is now seeing leave, as well as the young Georgetown talent. He's shown he can get the top talent to either commit to the big time program like Georgetown, or the football school with Mississippi State. His influence was even strong enough to make some recruiting gurus begin to wonder if Devonta Pollard, one of the top recruits for 2012, would follow him to LSU despite the fact that LSU never recruited him prior to that. Instead, Pollard ended up at Alabama. It's only a matter of time until Kirby gets a crack at head coaching, but LSU should benefit from his presence here even if it's only for a short amount of time.
The two other coaches that Jones has brought in are David Patrick, a former Houston Rockets scout and Baton Rouge native, and Charlie Leonard, an assistant from North Texas.
Shavon Coleman - Perhaps the most important incoming player for the Tigers is the 6'6" forward Shavon Coleman. He's a junior college transfer from Texas, and comes in with his teammate Calvin Godfrey. Both players will be juniors eligibility wise, though they get three years to play two. It's possible that Coleman starts from day 1 almost by default of being the only true small forward in terms of athleticism and size. He's a great leaper and it's something that LSU has lacked for much of Trent Johnson's time at the SF position.
Corban Collins - The point guard of the future will also be in Baton Rouge for the 2012/2013 season as Corban Collins made a late commitment to the Tigers only a few days ago. Collins comes from a very good basketball school in Virginia, the Massanutten Military Academy. Despite not being rated too highly, he has played against very good high school competition by simply being on Massanutten's team. He's not much of a scorer or shooter, but can dribble and pass well. It's unlikely that he comes in better than Anthony Hickey, so it may be a while before he leads the team, but he's a good bench player pickup for a team that was lacking players not too long ago.
Calvin Godfrey - Another important pickup for the 2012/2013 season was Shavon's teammate, Calvin Godfrey. Without any further additions, Godfrey will be one of the only true forwards on this team along with Johnny O'Bryant. LSU will depend heavily on Godfrey as it stands now, simply because of the lack of size on the Tigers' roster. Any offense that he can provide will be a bonus, but I think Coach Jones would be happy with solid defensive play and five or so rebounds a game.
Shane Hammink - Johnny Jones has already started to recruit globally, as Shane Hammink, son of Geert, has chosen to also play for the Tigers. At 6'5", he's another bigger guard for the Tigers, sort of like Ralston Turner. Like Collins, coming from Europe means that he has also played against some pretty good competition already. With John Isaac's departure, a backup guard spot has opened up, and Hammink will be battling with the following player to take it.
Malik Morgan - The fifth player from the 2012 class is actually the only player to be coming from a Louisiana school to LSU. Morgan is the only commitment that Trent Johnson had before heading over to TCU, though it appears that Morgan is a player that committed to the school and not the coach, as he reaffirmed his commitment to LSU even after Johnson left. He's shorter than Hammink is, but by most accounts, the best shooter that LSU has incoming. Despite not being particularly highly rated, he's the highest rated recruit that LSU has incoming.
Overall, Jones did a pretty good job with very limited time in getting a team ready for 2012. There will actually be enough players on the team now to play, which sadly was an issue not long ago. So far, there aren't any 2013 commitments, but there are a lot of highly rated Louisiana players still out there, the best being five star recruit Jarrell Martin. Damian Jones and Brian Bridgewater(along with Martin), are all from Baton Rouge, so the goal should be to get at least one player to come to LSU. They all are listed as power forwards, so it's unlikely they would all choose LSU if they are all competing for the same position(and Johnny O'Bryant is in front of them).
SEC and NCAA News and Notes
The SEC/Big East Challenge games have been announced. Matchups are below.
Kentucky vs. Notre Dame
Marquette vs. Florida
South Carolina vs. St. John's
Seton Hall vs. LSU
Syracuse vs. Arkansas
Tennessee vs. Georgetown
DePaul vs. Auburn
Georgia vs. USF
Alabama vs. Cincinnati
Villanova vs. Vanderbilt
Mississippi State vs. Providence
Rutgers vs. Mississippi
Overall, it's an entirely underwhelming schedule with a ton of un-watchable games. LSU's opponent, Seton Hall, looks to be a solid opponent and it wouldn't be surprising if the Pirates were in contention for an NCAA bid late in the year after being on the wrong side of the bubble in 2012.
SEC basketball seems poised to have a big year in 2012, at least at the top of the conference. Kentucky welcomes, arguably, the top recruiting class in the nation again. UCLA and Arizona both have strong classes so it's not a given that Kentucky is recruiting national champions again this year. Even so, they should find themselves in the top 5 to start the season. I think they will have a much more difficult year this year, though they should still finish in the top 25. Missouri welcomes a ton of high profile transfers, as well as returns a few players, to make a legitimate case for being in the top 10 to start the season. Florida and Tennessee have set expectations high as well coming off of strong finishes to the 2012 season. There's quite a dropoff after the top four teams, however, so it will be interesting to see if a team like Alabama, Mississippi, or Arkansas can step up and make the tournament.
As I mentioned a couple of times before, the SEC basketball schedule has also changed. There will now be 18 games, two more than previous, and there are no longer divisions of any kind. The schedules have not been released for this coming season, but LSU will play every team at least once, Texas A&M twice, and four other teams twice. There haven't been any updates on non-conference opponents that I know of, and it doesn't seem likely that LSU will be in a preseason tournament.
Nationally, there's a lot of unknown talent still out there. Indiana and Louisville are the only teams that really seem to be returning a good percentage of their roster and both will start in the top 5. The Big 10 should be the strongest conference in the country again, with Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota all challenging for the conference crown. Iowa, Purdue, and Illinois will likely finish with 20 wins each or close to it, so overall I think that's why the B1G will be the conference to watch.
The NCAA just finished making some new rulings. The biggest two changes are that the on court stickers(the ones Anthony Hickey would slip and slide on in Charleston) now have to be painted on the court or taken off completely, and that the charge/blocking calls will need to be scrutinized more. Officials will be undergoing training to help them get better at judging the call, as there were far too many charges last year. My opinion on the matter is that the NCAA made two correct calls with these situations. LSU benefited quite a bit from the charge call last year, but it is still awful the way that charges make up about 75% of the calls in that situation.
Overall, my way too early thoughts on the season is that it is going to be a "traditional" year. The 2012 season was extremely different than most years, as we saw two 15 seeds win, zero buzzer beaters in the tournament, and zero overtime games. The top 10 for 2012/2013 will be much weaker than they were last year, while the 11th through 40th(or so) teams will be significantly stronger. It may mean that road wins are increasingly difficult to come by, but also that teams won't run away with the conference like Kentucky did this year. It will be a good year for amateurs to play the bracket games, as there should be a lot of upsets, and a lot of mid-majors.
It's too hard to tell how LSU's season will go right now, simply because everything is still quite unsettled. With a new coach, new lineup, new schedule, and new gameplan, it's hard to say how good or bad LSU will be next year. At first I was ready to stick a fork in them before the season started, but with a couple of decent incoming players, Johnny Jones could turn things around quick. It will depend a lot on the effort in practice of the players as to how quickly the rebuilding job gets done.