If there’s one good thing about this time of year, it’s that in the sports world, there are plenty of new seasons starting that make it easy to continue watching sports. I’m not quite saying that we should be giving up on the football team just yet, because there are some crazy but not quite impossible scenarios where we’re still playing in a special bowl game on a five game winning streak. But if that doesn’t happen, and LSU fans are forced to move on far too early from football season, this year’s basketball team should allow LSU fans to keep coming back to Baton Rouge for some important games this year.
Of course, it is the freshman class that has quite a few people talking about a possible top 25 ranking and NCAA tournament berth before the season has even begun. It’s a deep class with a lot of star power, size, and skill at virtually every position on the court. Jarell Martin is the five star recruit from Baton Rouge that will get most of the attention along with double-double machine Johnny O’Bryant, but overall there are lots of good players that will contribute both this year and into the future. Let’s meet the team.
As previously mentioned, Jarell Martin headlines the recruiting class as a consensus top 20 five-star recruit from Baton Rouge. He’s considered to be a versatile forward that should play alongside Johnny O’Bryant in the starting line up from day one. He has enough size to be able to adequately fill in at the power forward spot and allow Shavon Coleman to also be inserted into the lineup should coach Jones decide to go without a true center. His inside game, similar to O’Bryant’s, is his strength at this point, and it will be interesting to see if his shooting touch can allow him to play as a small forward in times when LSU is against bigger SEC teams.
Johnny O’Bryant III
It has been a while since LSU has had a player as good as Johnny O’Bryant on the roster, and most of the SEC media and coaches agree. He’s already part of All-SEC teams and might be the most physical player in the SEC overall. While most are already proclaiming Kentucky to be the beasts of the league, I’m excited to see what a polished, healthy, and in-shape O’Bryant can do against them. JOB should be expected to put up at least 10 points a game this year and take in at least 8 rebounds. While he should expect to score more than 10 on a regular basis, I think the benefits of having some good guards on the outside will allow JOB to share some of the offensive pressure. With a deep 2014 draft class overall, it’s certainly possible that Johnny returns for another season next year, but I think LSU fans may be seeing him in his last 30 something games for the Tigers.
Over the last three seasons, Andre Stringer has been a lot of things for the Tigers. He’s been a problem when his shots were not falling and when he was unable to defend bigger guards on the perimeter. He’s been a solution when Johnny Jones arrived and allowed a guard heavy line up to find Stringer open and uncontested shots that went in about 40% of the time last year. Now, going into his senior season, it’s not unfair anymore to expect that Stringer should hit his open shots and perhaps even improve on the 40 percent mark he had a year ago. Range has never been a problem for Andre, it has always been his shot selection. With a lot more talent on the roster overall, I would expect Stringer to get over 40 again, though, he may do so by taking less shots overall this year in order to facilitate for those around him on the court.
Perhaps the unquestioned leader of the LSU Tigers is still Anthony Hickey. As a junior and likely starter for the Tigers once again, Hickey may blossom into one of the SEC’s best overall players. He’s always been a tenacious defender and has had countless games with full stat lines. He should once again lead the SEC in steals and may even end up as a first team All-SEC selection at the point guard spot if he can improve a bit on his offensive efficiency. He’s always had a knack for hitting big shots, and that is what he will be expected to do again this year. The key might be that he will hit them within the flow of the offense, rather than as a last ditch effort to save a game.
Another big time recruit for head coach Johnny Jones was prospect Tim Quarterman from Georgia. The first, and most obvious, observation of Quarterman is his size. At 6’5", he’s much bigger than either Stringer or Hickey and that should clearly help the Tigers this season, especially defensively. It’s no secret that Johnny Jones wants to press as much as possible in order to force easy steals and baskets, and Quarterman should be expected to help as a third guard on those defensive sets. He allows for some versatile line ups to happen. Whether he’s in at point guard with Malik Morgan or small forward with Hickey and Stringer, he can hopefully reap the benefits of a mismatch.
As a team, it’s pretty clear that LSU may be flying under the radar. As a player, Malik Morgan may be flying under the radar more than any other player in America. Sophomore Malik Morgan could end up being one of the most important pieces of the 2014 LSU basketball team. He’s perhaps one of the only players on the roster, other than Anthony Hickey, that truly has a position. He has the size needed to play shooting guard, and the shooting touch to keep defenses honest from beyond the arc. He is a capable ball handler in case he is ever thrust into a situation when Hickey or Stringer miss time or are out with foul trouble, and he has the size to be a third guard if he’s truly needed in that position. He may not even be considered the first or second player off the bench, score as much as the other guards, or even get that much playing time overall, but I expect Morgan to perhaps be the most impactful player off the bench that may save us a couple of times this season.
Already in his senior season with LSU after transferring from a junior college, Shavon Coleman could be the most interesting player on the roster. Early in the 2013 season, Coleman was the go-to guy for the Tigers offensively. He was able to hit the outside shot and slash to the basket with ease. He could rebound from the forward spot and was generally a menace on defense. As the season progressed and the talent level went up, however, Coleman was constantly in foul trouble and his shooting went south. He found himself on the bench a lot more with an improved Andrew Del Piero on the floor as a center with a three guard lineup. What happens from this point forward may be the biggest mystery. I could see Coleman being a bench player for a good portion of the season, or I could see him starting at small forward along with Martin and O’Bryant. It really may depend on his offensive output from the outside. If he can’t make shots, he may not be able to stay on the floor enough to make an impact.
Jordan Mickey may be the reason that Coleman doesn’t see the floor as much as a senior. After briefly being ruled ineligible because of high school qualification problems, Mickey was eventually cleared of wrongdoing and will be eligible to play for the Tigers this season. He’s already considered one of the more polished power forwards in the 2013 recruiting class and he has post moves that would be considered advanced at this point in his career. He’s considered by ESPN to be the 12th best power forward in the class, despite being the 38th best overall recruit, which shows the depth of the class overall. Mickey should be the most exciting player on the floor for the Tigers because of his ability to get to the rim with ease and also because of his shot blocking ability. The only question that LSU fans should be asking is whether or not he can handle going against some of the bigger players on the interior, because he’s a long, lean type of forward.
As the first of hopefully more talented Australian players, Darcy Malone comes to Baton Rouge as the center replacement for Andrew Del Piero. At 7 feet tall, he’s unquestionably the center of the future for LSU and should see a bit of playing time if LSU ever wants to get some real size on the court. I always question how much of an impact centers will have in their first year, because it is typically the position that requires the most coaching to get benefits. Centers for LSU typically haven’t been at their most efficient until their senior seasons, and I’m somewhat confident the same will be true with Malone. Even so, Johnny Jones has been perfectly willing to play inexperienced players alongside veterans as a way to minimize mistakes and that may be what we see this season with Malone.
Coming into his second season, Shane Hammink may be one of the players that get lost in the shuffle for the 2014 season. Despite showing some promise early in the 2013 season, Hammink eventually was worn down by the more talented teams that the Tigers played against, and finished the season playing very sparingly. Averaging only 2 points a game, he was kind of an oddball in terms of style of play for the Tigers. He didn’t shoot well enough to play much as a guard, and he wasn’t big enough defensively to play as a forward. Something will have to give, because as it stands right now, there are just better options than Hammink available at either of those positions. Finding a shooting touch may be the easiest and quickest way to get an established spot in the lineup.
Two years ago, I thought that Brian Bridgewater might be the most important player that the Tigers were recruiting. It seemed, at the time, that most of the talented players from the state were going elsewhere to play. Javan Felix was going to Texas while Rico Gathers went to Baylor. I sort of expected Jarell Martin to head to a big basketball school, while Damien Jones was already content with Vanderbilt. That left Brian Bridgewater. Fast forward to the present, and it turns out that Bridgewater wasn’t the foundation of the class, but rather, icing on the cake of a highly rated class. With more talented players in front of him, it’s expected that his impact will be minimal at this point. I would tend to agree, though I think his prowess for rebounding may be something that LSU uses a bit this season.
Last but not least, the second junior college transfer for the Tigers is John Odo of Nigeria. It has been a while since LSU has recruited Odo, but the 2014 season will be the first time that he steps onto the court for the Tigers. He’s likely going to find a lot of playing time as a center because he’s much more polished than Darcy Malone is at this point despite being a smaller overall player. He has a decent offensive game and should give the LSU Tigers some points from the inside while anchoring the defense on the press. Because of the depth on the team, I’m not quite as excited for him as I once was, but I certainly expect him to have a solid impact on the team this year whether he is a starter or comes in off the bench.
The last scholarship for the 2014 season falls to Keith Hornsby, a transfer from North Carolina – Asheville. He’s a streaky long range shooter that will be forced to sit out the entire season due to transfer rules. He will be able to play his remaining two seasons for LSU in 2015 and 2016. His presence should help ease the loss of Andre Stringer following this season and he’s likely going to be a key bench player in those seasons.
Charles Carmouche – Graduation
Eddie Ludwig – Graduation
Andrew Del Piero – Graduation
Jalen Courtney – Transfer to Morehead State
Corban Collins – Transfer to Morehead State
Deng Deng – Decommitment, now at Cal-State Bakersfield
Overall, it’s a full roster for the first time in many years. There are plenty of versatile players available for Johnny Jones to throw a ton of different line ups out there. I would expect a starting line up to consist of Anthony Hickey, Andre Stringer, Jarell Martin, Johnny O’Bryant, and John Odo. I could very easily see any number of other players starting, but I think this line up would give Jones the best overall mix of players to start a game. The season opens with a tough game against an experienced UMass team on the road on November 12. It could be a game that truly tells us which way the Tigers will be heading over the course of the season.