The LSU men’s basketball season officially begins Friday night in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center as the defending SEC champion Tigers host the Bowling Green University Falcons.
A strong core from last year’s Sweet 16 returns for LSU. Guards Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays and Marlon Taylor and forwards Emmitt Williams and Darius Days return to the PMAC floor after taking LSU on its deepest NCAA Tournament run since 2006.
The players will also have head coach Will Wade back in command on the sideline for the first time in 245 days. Wade was suspended on the eve of last season’s regular season finale against Vanderbilt, missed the entirety of LSU’s postseason run, but was reinstated in early April.
With all the ugliness behind Wade and his Tigers, LSU can look ahead to defending its SEC Championship and making the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons, a feat not achieved in 15 years.
Up first for LSU are the Falcons of Bowling Green. Bowling Green won 22 games last year and reached the MAC Tournament championship game. The Falcons would come up short in Cleveland, losing to the Buffalo Bulls 87-73 and ultimately did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
But the Falcons return nearly the entirety of last year’s team. Bowling Green brings back four starters and that returning experience is a big reason why the Falcons were picked to win the Eastern Division of the MAC. Bowling Green was also pegged as the preseason favorite to win the conference tournament.
Guards Justin Turner and Dylan Frye were named East Division Preseason All-MAC. Everything starts with the Falcons’ experienced back court.
“Their guard play is really, really good,” Wade said. “One (Turner) and five (Frye) are tremendous guards. They’ve got a defensive guard, who’s been hurt and been out the last couple games, but started for them last year. He’ll be back. He’ll be back for our game.”
“Really, it’s just an opportunity to show we can play with anybody,” Turner said. “We have a chance to not only show the Mid-American Conference, but show the entire country. We’ll be ready for it.”
From the jump, we’ll see how LSU handles life without Naz Reid and Kavell Bigby-Williams. The size advantage lay with Bowling Green, not the Tigers. The Falcons have some serious height in 6’11” center Talyer Mattos and 6’6” tweener Daeqwon Plowden. In his first ever collegiate game, prized five-star recruit Trendon Watford may spend most of his night being bodied up by Mattos.
Bowling Green isn’t the most glamorous out of conference opponent on LSU’s schedule, but it is a quality one. The Falcons nearly won the MAC last year, brought just about everyone back from that group and was tagged as the favorite to win it this year. This is the kind of game that might look more impressive come tournament time and it’s imperative LSU get off to a good start to 2019-20.
Consistency from year to year has been a sore spot for the LSU basketball program. Performing when there’s expectations has been another one. It’s one thing to win the SEC coming out of nowhere, it’s another thing to start the season in the AP Top 25 and be one of the favorites in the league.
Here’s to a new basketball season; to the sport being relevant again in Baton Rouge; and, most importantly, to Will Wade being back on the PMAC sidelines.