In college basketball, guard play is everything. A smart, savvy ball handler that can comfortably initiate offense can be the difference in a team merely making the NCAA Tournament, or going on a deep run.
For the first time in quite some time it feels like LSU is truly starting over at the guard positions. Will Wade’s tenure in Baton Rouge has been blessed by solid production from the point guard spot by both Tremont Water and Javonte Smart. Add in the fact that the Tigers will have to replace Cam Thomas’s ability to score from anywhere and Smart’s marksmanship from three and there’s an awful lot of offense that will need to be made up.
To do so Wade and staff turned to the transfer portal and hit the recruiting trail hard. Here’s hoping the new faces and the one returning familiar one are up to the task.
I wrote about it a few weeks ago but it has to be said again: Adam Miller’s injury is a killer and probably changes the trajectory of LSU’s season for the worse. Will Wade and staff went out and added a former five-star prospect that got solid playing time at both a college basketball power (Illinois) and for Team USA’s Under-19 FIBA team...and now he won’t be available to play at all this season. Just a brutal blow for an LSU team that had legitimate hope of making it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Miller wasn’t the only major transfer to come to Baton Rouge however. Xavier Pinson, is going from one SEC school (Missouri) to another for his final year of eligibility.
Pinson comes to LSU with a heck of a lot of experience. Pinson has appeared in 88 games with 49 starts, including all 26 of Missouri’s games last season. He projects more as a Javonte Smart type of score-first guard than a distributor like Tremont Waters.
Last season in CoMo Pinson averaged 13 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists. The problem is his assist to turnover ratio is nearly 1:1. His 2020-2021 numbers aren’t listed on Missouri’s website but through his first two seasons Pinson had 157 assists compared to 151 turnovers. That’s not going to cut it but Wade says Pinson’s made strides as a decision maker.
“He’s better than I thought. He’s been a huge surprise,” Wade said. “I knew he was a good basketball player, but just being able to play point guard and pass and see the floor, he’s as good as I’ve seen it. Get down the seams, creating rotation and drives. He’s going to be really good for us.”
Pinson seems to have one of the starting guard spots locked up. Who starts alongside him—and again this is where the Miller injury is such a blow—is a little more up in the air.
The obvious choice seems to be sophomore guard Eric Gaines...if he can show anything close to resembling an offensive game. Gaines played in 29 games last season but was about as close to a zero offensively as you can get, with paltry shooting splits of 22/17/72. Gaines showed he could be a pest defensively (30 steals), and Wade’s LSU teams historically have been bad if not flat out awful, but poor shooting combined with a negative assist to turnover ratio (35 assists vs. 36 turnovers) makes him nearly unplayable. He has to make a leap if he wants to stay on the floor.
If Gaines isn’t up to the task perhaps maybe one of the newer faces can make an instant impact. LSU signed a pair of true freshmen guards, Brandon Murray and Justice Williams. Murray, from Baltimore, comes to LSU via IMG Academy and like Cam Thomas is highly thought of as a pure scorer. His IMG stats aren’t available, but he averaged 22 points per game in the year before back home in Maryland. Murray played 37 minutes in LSU’s scrimmage against Nicholls and scored 10 points on 4-10 shooting.
Justice Williams, on the other hand, reclassified from the class of 2022 to 2021 and signed with LSU over the summer. Williams spent his last season of high school ball at the prestigious Montverde Academy where they won the 2020-2021 GEICO National Title. Prior to transferring, Williams was the leading scorer for Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia. Williams may not be as ready to compete as others when you consider he just joined the program in August and is the youngest player on the roster. Williams also did not see the floor Saturday against Nicholls for what its worth.
The other guards on the 2021-22 roster are walk ons Brandon Egemo, who played in two games last season, Parker Edwards, played in five games including some garbage time minutes against St. Bonaventure in the NCAA Tournament, and Spencer Mays, the younger brother of former Tiger Skylar Mays. Spencer came to LSU from BRCC but unfortunately is not a pre-med student like Skylar.