For the first time since 2006, basketball fans are excited once again in Baton Rouge. Coming off a nationally-recognized top-10 2013 recruiting class, head coach Johnny Jones has this team headed in the right direction and very quickly at that. The optimism is high and this team has the chance to, in the words of Juwan Howard, "Shock the world." These games could be clear indicators as to whether this team will be a threat come late March or if they will fall short of their hype.
1. LSU Vs. Kentucky, January 28th
The Deaf Dome will likely live up to it's name in the biggest home game of the season for the Tigers. In the first of two matchups, LSU will welcome Kentucky to Baton Rouge for a home game right before February. The Wildcats bring in SIX McDonald's All-Americans from their most recent recruiting class that will pair up with potential first rounders in Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein to form the most-talented team on paper of all-time.
The major issue LSU will face against the Wildcats is their size. With Stringer and Hickey both under 6-feet tall, they will have their hands full with the 6'5" Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron. Johnny Jones will be hoping by this time that combo guard Tim Quarterman will be ready to see significant time in order to use his heights against this lineup. Johnny O'Bryant will also have his hands full with the size of 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein and 6'11" true frosh Dakari Johnson.
With a young team comes inexperience, so LSU will need to hope this Wildcat team will not be fully-meshed yet and will try to cause a lot of turnovers on defense and keep them uncomfortable.
2. LSU At Kentucky, February 22nd
Less than a month later, the Tigers will head to Rupp Arena in Lexington to face their biggest road challenge of the season as they are hosted by the Kentucky Wildcats. They will have the benefit of having experience against the Wildcats already, but when teams have a lot of youth like Kentucky boasts, they will only get better as the season progresses.
The same diagnosis as the first game applies here. LSU will need to stay active on the defensive side, getting in the head of the youthful lineup of Kentucky in hopes of demoralizing them. Both of these games will create some excitement with 9 McDonald's All-Americans between the two teams and more talented players who just missed out like Cauley-Stein and Jordan Mickey.
3. LSU At Florida, March 1st
LSU gets their final tough road challenge a week after their road game against Kentucky as they head to Gainesville to face the Florida Gators. Like the Tigers, the Gators boast a solid mesh of veterans and talented newcomers. Senior Patric Young hasn't lived up to expectations for the Gators but he is a very solid big man down low and will be an exciting matchup to watch between him and Johnny O'Bryant. Transfers Eli Carter, Damontre Harris and Dorian Finney-Smith are three very talented transfers that will all cause various problems for opponents. Kasey Hill will likely take over as starting point guard sometime in the year and move Scottie Wilbekin, Florida's best perimeter defender, over to shooting guard. The Gators could be even better if the ultra-athletic true freshman Chris Walker becomes eligible for the spring semester after missing the fall due to academics.
The Tigers will need to turn Florida, who lost three double-digit scorers from last season, into a one-dimensional team on offense, likely taking away Patric Young. On offense, LSU will need to spread the Gators out and avoid the shot-blocking presence of Young, Damontre Harris and potentially Bill Walker, while getting through their suffocating press. Jarell Martin could be a big key here in taking advantage of his athleticism against a guy like Will Yeguete.
4. LSU Vs. Tennessee, January 7th
The Tigers open their conference season with a tough Tennessee team that has two solid players in Jarnell Stokes and Jordan McRae but will be looking to newcomers like Robert Hubbs III and Antonio Barton along with a healthy season from Jerome Maymon if they want any shot at contending. Their bench is a little weak, so they will be relying on their front five to win them ballgames.
LSU will need to stick on McRae to not allow him any free space to get a shot off and force the true freshman Hubbs to take over the scoring on the perimeter. Johnny O'Bryant should be able to defend Stokes, and the strong but slow post for Tennessee does have issues on dealing with double teams, something LSU should be able to do with their depth.
5. LSU At Massachusetts, November 12th
Yeah, Dr. J and Marcus Camby are no longer there, but it's the first game of the season for LSU and is on the road at a great school like UMass. It should be a win as the Minutemen return only one double-digit scorer in diminutive point guard Chaz Williams, who should have a tougher time dealing with the two smaller guards LSU boasts.
The Tigers should walk away with a win in this one by using their size and athleticism to bully UMass around, giving them a healthy dose of Johnny O.
Two Potential Big-Time Games
1. LSU Vs. Oklahoma State, Old Spice Classic
A potential championship match-up in the Old Spice Classic, the Cowboys may have gotten the best off-season news when Player of the Year candidate Marcus Smart decided to come back to school for one more year. His presence alone will cause problems for LSU, not to mention getting someone to cover scorer Markel Brown as well. You could throw guys like Shavon Coleman and Malik Morgan at him, but Smart being the complete player he is, he will find mismatches in his counterparts.
LSU will have to find a way to get the ball out of Smart's hand and force Brown and Le'Bryan Nash to beat them. The battle between Nash and likely Jarell Martin will be a solid matchup, but LSU will have to focus on Smart. The newcomers will have to prove their worth early in this potential big-time early season contest
2. LSU Vs. Memphis, Old Spice Classic
Before they would face Oklahoma State, a potential match-up against Memphis could await them in the semifinals. The Tigers of Memphis have guards, and guards...and some more guards. The trio of Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford will get even more reinforcements with Missouri transfer Michael Dixon Jr. Like LSU, they bring in a highly-touted recruiting class, centered around Nick King, Austin Nichols and Kuran Iverson. Johnny O will also have his hands full with a player in almost the exact same mold as him in Shaq Goodwin.
LSU will have to stay sharp on defense because Memphis has a lot of players that are able to score and in bunches. It will come down to whose newcomers will step up more because the guard play and the O'Bryant-Goodwin matchups will play out evenly.
While one may not be against the toughest of opponents, LSU will for sure have 4 solid conference matchups that will show what this team is made of, and could have two in-season tournament games that will give them a little taste of even more top-25 action. Even if you are just a normal college basketball fan, a lot of these games may become very interesting as the season goes on. Either way, LSU should be in for a good season and The Deaf Dome may be making a triumphant comeback this year