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LSU Basketball Season Preview: The Backcourt

With the Tigers tipping off the regular season this Saturday, uncertainty still reigns around the guard position

Paul Abell-USA TODAY Sports

This is as much turnover as we've seen in the LSU backcourt since Bo Spencer (remember him?) was still around. So it's safe to say we're in for a whole new era of Tiger guards here.

Gone are Anthony Hickey, a three-year starter and recent Oklahoma St. transfer, and Andre Stringer, a four-year contributor who was LSU's only consistent 3-point threat in recent seasons. Malik Morgan was essentially shipped out to Tulane after his knee injury and Shane Hammink saw the writing on the wall, retreating to Valparaiso.

Overall, Tim Quarterman is the only returning scholarship player in the backcourt. Time to panic, right?

Well, not exactly.

Obviously, Stringer's long-ball ability will be missed and Hickey's sparkplug energy will be appreciated more now that it's gone. But these guys are hardly irreplaceable. Their diminutive stature created difficult lineup spots for Johnny Jones and meant the backcourt often had to gamble for steals, lest they risk bigger, stronger guards driving to the hoop. Stringer was aces coming off screens and sets but had trouble creating his own shot at times, while Hickey was the engine that often made the team go. That also meant the team could stall out whenever Hickey wasn't all there mentally or used up more shots on cold shooting nights than he needed.

LSU also had a near 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio last season. While that wasn't all on the guards, taking care of the ball still needs to be a primary concern for the new gang at guard. There's a solid base of talent here, but it is unproven. Hickey (who may have finally been ready to get LSU to the NCAA Tournament had he stayed) and Stringer were known commodities, so for the first time in years, there's real uncertainty here - for better or worse.

Let's take a look at how the depth chart shakes out.


Josh Gray - He looks to be the stud of this year's incoming recruiting class. The JuCo transfer hails from the same West Texas conference that Marshall Henderson and Shavon Coleman emerged from. At Odessa, the 6-foot-1 slasher cranked out 35 points and seven assists per game after arriving from Texas Tech. A Lake Charles native, Gray should immediately step in as the starting point guard. It's possible he won't have the swift hands Hickey commonly flashed but his superior height gives Jones a lot more flexibility in his lineups, especially when teams trot out combo guards at the point. A prolific scorer at every level, it will be interesting to see how that translates on a team with such appealing inside options. Can he facilitate when LSU needs it, while also keeping that scoring edge?

Jalyn Patterson - The St. Benedict's Prep (FL) product, while just a three-star get, still has a decent set of expectations on him, though not getting the starting nod for the opener (a la Quarterman last year) should help ease him in. His high-school teammate may have a lot to do with the hype, as recent LSU five-star commit Ben Simmons was his running mate. Minor knee surgery last spring limited Patterson's offseason, but he's healthy by all accounts and LSU will need him. He projects as more of a true point guard, slippery through screens, looking to dish and with a quick first step driving to the basket. His defense could be a question mark, as he's 6-foot-nothing on a good day and unpolished as an on-ball presence. Still, Patterson isn't depth for depth's sake, and it shouldn't be asking too much of him to provide 10-15 solid minutes a game off the bench.


Keith Hornsby - The UNC-Asheville transfer sat out all of last year, but he was already noticeable on the bench. He was perhaps the team's biggest cheerleader during a year when he didn't even play, a good sign for a guy who had no previous LSU ties. Of course, Hornsby's got some famous blood, and by all accounts his game is as smooth as one of his dad's solos. He'll need to instantly be an honest perimeter threat to keep defenses from doubling down inside. But don't expect Hornsby to just park himself beyond the arc. Teammates rave about his huge leaping ability, and everyone around the program seems to swear by his 40-inch vertical. Don't be surprised if he lands a few Sportscenter Top-10 worthy dunks this season. More than that, he just needs to be a taller version of Stringer - capable of knocking down shots and nailing free throws, but also capable of matching up defensively with shooting guards OR wing forwards.

Tim Quarterman - The experiment at point guard last season was a disaster until he picked it up come March, but he'll likely slide over to the shooting guard spot this year. At first glance, that makes little sense, as he shot .264/.208/.548 (FG/3-pt/FT) in his freshman campaign. Those are simply atrocious totals for an SEC guard. But Quarterman remains a lanky defender who was still disruptive in limited action last season, with 24 steals and nine blocks - solid numbers for a guard who averaged a dozen minutes per game. And again, his game slowly and subtly improved down the stretch. He doesn't need to become an instant difference maker from the perimeter but if the sophomore can even be good for a three-pointer a game, taking care of the ball and sound perimeter defense, he'll be valuable as a contributor.

Even if this backcourt performs above expectations, it still won't be the strength of this team, not with Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin at the 3 and 4, respectively. But what this backcourt can be is a relief for those two, capable of opening up the paint and taking care of the ball well enough to ensure that LSU won't stagnate offensively the way they did if Johnny O'Bryant III struggled in Jones' first two seasons.

What's got your attention about this year's LSU backcourt? Do you think Gray can replace Hickey?