Happy BYE Hate Week! Let’s talk some shootyhoops before next week’s football opponent shoves this down the front page by twenty articles.
By now, you’ve probably heard about some folks who didn’t have the most pleasant things to say about the 2017-18 Tigers, so I wanted to dive into the entire SEC and see where I really think LSU and the rest of the conference will finish. Spoiler: Kentucky will win the conference.
First off, I wanted to collect and dive into some data about each team, what they’re returning from last season, and what they added via recruiting for this season. Let me start off by saying the national recruiting rankings and every recruit star ratings are from 247. This isn’t exactly the deepest form of basketball analytics, but it is a nice picture to keep in mind to figure out where each team stands to start the season.
I realize we technically finished above Mizzou last season, this order was just given because I was playing around with sorting and each team’s order isn’t really pertinent to the points I’m going to be making.
Immediately, I’d like to draw your attention to MPG, representing the percentage of each team’s returning minutes per game. Typically here you’d expect the more successful teams to be lower than the league average (comically so in Kentucky’s case). The average returning MPG for the SEC comes out to 64.42%, or up to 68.08% if you omit Kentucky. Sure enough, the top four teams in the SEC last year all had returning MPG numbers below the conference average, but I’m sure you’ve noticed two more teams are below that average, and only one of them has a winning record.
Most really good basketball teams go through this issue every year: do really well with a ton of young players, those young players leave for the NBA because they’re great and for some reason we’ve yet to adopt baseball’s rules for draft eligibility, and being forced to turn around and replace those great players via recruiting. Kentucky and Florida were the two best teams in the SEC last year, and both turned in top 20 recruiting classes for 2017. Nothing to see here, they’ll be great, big, and scary again this season. Arkansas and especially South Carolina, however, didn’t have the smoothest turnover. As a matter of fact, South Carolina lost about two-thirds of last year’s production, and turned in the second worst recruiting class in the conference. I can say with full confidence they probably won’t win 12 conference games again this year.
We’re an LSU blog, though. Let’s talk about the Tigers and those seemingly concerning numbers.
It’s a bit easier to test LSU, who finished with a 2-16 conference record, against only those teams who finished .500 or below last season. After a quick scan, it’s pretty apparent LSU is dead last in returning starts, minutes per game, and points per game among .500 or worse teams. At first, that’s a pretty terrifying revelation. Bad teams don’t typically get better with less experience, and LSU was a very bad team with even worse defense.
Coach Wade came to Baton Rouge knowing the roadblocks a 10-21 (2-16) would leave for whoever turned out to be brave enough to hop on that sinking ship. He was especially aware of the personnel issues that come with only having five returning scholarship players, and that’s been extremely evident by the way he’s recruited players from high school, as well as two graduate transfers who could prove to be very key components in this season’s campaign: Jeremy Combs and Randy Onwuasor. Take those two guys, throw in three 4 star recruits, and add the #4 JUCO shooting guard…baby you got a stew going.
It won’t be pretty, it probably won’t be a winning conference record, but I can guarantee it won’t be the dead last place finish that some have predicted, especially when you consider that LSU had the fourth best recruiting rank in the SEC, and a coach I’m learning to love more and more each day.
Speaking of recruiting, we should address how much of a turnaround we should expect for Mizzou this year. Something is a bit suspect about a team finishing dead last in the SEC and turning in the fourth best recruiting class in the nation, but then again Ben Simmons played for LSU. Heh. Be on the lookout for the 5 star freshman brother duo at Mizzou this year in the shape of Jontay Porter and Michael Porter, Jr.
Alabama is also looking pretty scary on paper. Not only did they return above average stats from a 10-8 year in every category, the Tide locked in the eighth best recruiting class in the nation, a class led by the #1 ranked Point Guard Collin Sexton.
The rest of the SEC is what it is every single year: Kentucky, Florida, a total crapshoot of 8-10 teams, and then absolute crap. Of course we’ll know a bit more about each team as the season wears on through the out of conference schedule, but as of now I threw together some groups of teams and where I think they’ll finish in the SEC based on what we’ve seen on paper.
Top 4: Kentucky, Florida, Alabama, Mizzou
Bottom 4: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, South Carolina
Middle 6: LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Texas A&M