Head coach Johnny Jones has certainly been hot on the recruiting trail. The 2013 class for the Tigers was both large in terms of the amount of incoming players, and also big in the sense that there could be some future All-Americans and possibly NBA players playing in Baton Rouge. However, the same can be said for a number of teams this year. Kentucky welcomes a star packed class led by Julius Randle and the Harrison twins. Kansas welcomes a player named Andrew Wiggins who many consider to be the best recruit since Kevin Durant, and perhaps even LeBron James. Other powers like Duke, Syracuse, Louisville, and Indiana welcome big classes with their own five star recruits.
Nationally, it should be a great year for college basketball, at least in the regular season. For whatever reason, athletic directors and college coaches are perfectly willing to schedule tough out of conference games early and often this season. The Champion's Classic will have four of the top five teams in the AP poll playing in the first week of the season! Other mini-tournaments will create great games, while the 18 game conference season allows for some bonuses when teams will meet twice in the same season.
Last season, I think it was clear that the talent was spread far and wide across the country. Mid-majors were able to steal a lot of high seeds and reach the tournament. Wichita State was a team that was able to capitalize on this and reach the final four. Top teams couldn't hold onto the top rankings and would routinely fall in conference and to inferior opponents.
This year, I think the opposite will be the case. The power is clearly centered at the top. Upsets, I think, will be few and far between. The really good programs have been able to recruit the really good players. The good mid-majors that may have been able to claim top spots last year have lost key players(and a coach in the case of Butler). However, one good mid major team may be the first team that the LSU Tigers play, and that would be the UMass Minutemen. Jones certainly was willing to try to pick up a huge RPI boosting win right away.
Overall, I think the LSU schedule is much better designed than last year. Although starting out at UMass isn't advised, the rest of the non-conference schedule is set up nicely. Getting three home games in before the Old Spice Classic is a good way to let the team gel and hopefully pick up some wins. It's a relatively easy schedule overall, and LSU should expect at most two losses going into SEC play. Texas Tech may not be all that great this year, but a road game against a BCS level team is never a gimme.
SEC play is overall a mixed bag. The January slate could be a make or break period for LSU, as Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky are all part of the schedule. Vanderbilt and Ole Miss are also tough games to round out that month along with South Carolina. If anything, going 4-4 or 5-3 would keep the Tigers in the hunt for an NCAA bid.
February is manageable with only one likely game against a ranked team, that being Kentucky on the road. It's too far in advance to know what SEC team may rise quicker than expected, but I would hope LSU is able to pick up about 6 wins in that month. March ends with some decent games on the road against Florida and Vanderbilt, so there is opportunity to hopefully cement a spot in March play at home in the final game against Georgia.
In the end, I think the Tigers are looking at a 23-7 record at this point. It likely would put them squarely on the bubble heading into SEC tournament play depending on which teams they are able to beat. The SEC is pretty wide open so finishing high in the standings may help take an NCAA tournament bid. It's unclear at this point what the conference RPI will look like, so it could make or break LSU if the Tigers aren't able to win the big games.