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LSU Basketball Preview: Back Court

Mays, Smart look to carry LSU back to NCAA Tournament

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-LSU vs Michigan State Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In college basketball, guard play is everything.

It’s why Michigan State got 60 of 65 first place votes in the season’s opening AP Top 25. The Spartans’ senior guard Cassius Winston is the only consensus preseason All-American and the biggest reason why many are picking Michigan State to win the title.

For LSU, guard play was critical in its 2018-19 SEC Championship team. Tremont Waters was one of the nation’s best ball handlers and many point to his departure as the main reason why LSU won’t duplicate last season’s success.

Luckily for Will Wade, LSU returns a trio of experienced guards.

Skylar Mays

Senior, 6-4, 205

2018-19: 35 games played, 35 starts, 33.1 minutes per game; 13.4 points per game, 3.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists per game; 42.1/31.3/86.0 shooting splits

Simply put, Skylar Mays is the heart of this basketball team. Mays declared for the NBA Draft at season’s end but took advantage of the new rules, got feedback from the NBA and elected to return to school.

Now Mays is back for his last campaign in Baton Rouge. Mays has experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows. As a freshman, Mays was part of that infamous 2-16 in SEC play Tiger team. Last year, Mays helped his team win the league and get the program to its first Sweet 16 since 2006. Mays will once again operate as the Tiger two-guard and I look forward to him absolutely yamming it on opponents for one final season.

Javonte Smart

Sophomore, 6-4, 205

2018-19: 34 games played, 18 starts, 29.9 minutes; 11.1 points per game, 3.3 rebounds per game, 2.4 assists per game; 36.8/31/1/83.9 shooting splits

The man tasked with replacing Tremont Waters. If LSU is going to be successful, it will come down to how Smart acclimates to being LSU’s primary ball handler.

Smart plays a lot differently than Waters. Smart’s more of the type to try and get a full head of steam, drive through the lane and kick the ball out to a teammate. He’s not scared, that’s for sure. He’ll get to the line and, to his credit, he knocks down free throws at a high rate. But for Smart it comes down to his decision making. His assist to turnover ratio last season was 81:63, the turnovers have got to be reduced significantly if LSU wants to compete with Florida and Kentucky in the SEC. Will Wade has talked about how LSU may not be as aesthetically pleasing this year as opposed to last. If Smart makes good decisions with the ball, I don’t imagine anyone will care too much how pretty a win looks.

Marlon Taylor

Senior, 6-5, 210

2018-19: 35 games, 24 starts, 23.4 minutes per game; 6.7 points per game, 3.6 rebounds per game, 0.6 assists per game; 46.3/25.4/67.5 shooting splits

Taylor can jump out of the gym, we know that. Time after time, Taylor caught lobs from Smart, Mays or Waters and slammed the ball through with particular force. But it felt like that’s all his offensive game consisted of. He was a virtual non-threat from three and rarely got to the free throw line. The dunks are awesome, sure. But can he add a shooting touch? Far too often Taylor found himself on the bench watching in late game situations. This was despite the fact that Taylor is actually a great defender. With Tremont Waters being on the shorter side, Taylor would guard the opposing team’s best ball handler. You know why Yale’s Miye Oni was a nonfactor in the Tigers’ win over the Bulldogs in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament? It was because Marlon Taylor was having none of it. If Taylor can add just a pinch more offense to his game, LSU might have one of the best two-way players in the country.

Marshall Graves

Senior, 6-4, 195

2018-19: 11 games, 7.8 minutes, 2.5 points, 0.6 rebounds; 34.6/100/36.4 shooting splits

Graves played sparingly in 2018-19 but sent the PMAC into a frenzy in the regular season finale against Vanderbilt when he hit four threes. He is also not the son of Todd Graves, I can confirm this.

James Bishop

Freshman, 6-2, 190

2018-19 (High School): No. 23 combo guard in America; 23.3 points per game, 4.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists

Charles Manning Jr.

Junior, 6-5, 200

2018-19 (Florida SouthWestern State College): , NJCAA All-American; 16.8 points per game, 4.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.1 steals

Bishop and Manning are the new kids on the block and I’d expect both will play from the start. Manning’s a little more seasoned thanks to a stint at Florida SouthWestern State. Bishop, on the other hand, can provide instant offense. In high school Bishop scored over 2,100 points and had 15 games scoring 25 points or more.

Aundre Hyatt

Freshman, 6-5, 225

2018-19: Redshirted

Hyatt did not play in 2018-19 but was able to practice with teammates. Hyatt’s been working his way back from a knee injury suffered in August, but he was cleared for the exhibition game against Louisiana Tech last weekend.

Parker Edwards

Sophomore, 6-3, 190

Caleb Starks

Junior, 6-3, 205

Edwards and Starks are a pair of walk ons, both transferring from in state schools. Edwards comes to LSU from Southeastern, while Starks spent last season at LSU-Eunice