Another season of men’s basketball is upon us. LSU has a new head coach and almost a whole new roster after the tumultuous offseason. The Tigers come into the season 40th in the preseason KenPom and were projected to finish 8th in the SEC preseason media poll as Matt McMahon begins to build his program in Baton Rouge. This year’s non-conference schedule is rather easy compared to last year’s, with eight home games before the SEC opener vs Arkansas December 28. There’s also a January home tilt with Texas Tech on the schedule, but I won’t be breaking that down in this series as that interrupts the SEC schedule. The second part of this series (next week) will focus on the seven potential opponents in the Cayman Islands Classic and Wake Forest, but for now, let’s get to know the home non-conference opponents for the 2022-23 LSU Tigers. (Cumulative cost: $715,000)
Kansas City, November 9
Basic intro: The Kansas City Roos (not UMKC, not Kangaroos, they rebranded in 2019) represent the University of Missouri-Kansas City and come out of the Summit League
Fun fact: The nickname “Kangaroos” came from when the Kansas City Zoo got two joeys in the 1930s
Preseason rankings: KenPom 296 (out of 363), picked to finish 6th in Summit League (out of 10)
What you should know: Kansas City opens its season Monday with a game against Division II Lincoln (MO). That will be new head coach Marvin Menzies’ debut with the team following Billy Donlon’s departure to take an assistant job at Clemson. Menzies has had previous head coaching experience, guiding New Mexico State to five NCAA tournament appearances (including four straight from 2012-15) before a less successful 3-year stint at UNLV. The Roos are coming off a 19-12 season that included an 80-66 win over Missouri in mid-November. Four of Kansas City’s five most valuable players from last year are gone, three of whom were seniors. In fact, the Roos have only four returning players from last year’s team. It should be an easy victory for the Tigers, but it’ll be interesting to see what this new head coach brings.
Whom to watch for: Senior guards Shemarri Allen (5) and Anderson Kopp (11)
Arkansas State, November 12
Basic intro: The Arkansas State Red Wolves represent Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and come out of the Sun Belt Conference (SBC)
Fun fact: Despite having been a Division I school since 1975, Arkansas State has only faced Arkansas once in men’s basketball, a 1987 meeting in Barnhill that Arkansas came back to win in overtime.
Preseason rankings: KenPom 274 (out of 363), picked to finish 12th in SBC (out of 14)
What you should know: Arkansas State opens its season Monday with a game against Division II Harding. Mike Balado is coming into his sixth season after a very good 18-11 season, just the fourth time ASU’s reached that win mark since 1999-00. Unfortunately for him, he’s only returning one starter from that team. Their best player was freshman center Norchad Omier, but he transferred to Miami (FL) in the offseason. Omier was one of the best rebounders in the country last year, finishing 4th in defensive rebound percentage and 11th in offensive rebound percentage. They didn’t shoot well from beyond the arc last season and were very turnover prone. With nine newcomers and a refreshed starting five, it should be an interesting blowout (spoiler).
Whom to watch for: Junior guard Caleb Fields (0), the only returning starter from last season
New Orleans, November 17
Basic intro: The New Orleans (henceforth known as UNO) Privateers represent the University of New Orleans and come out of the Southland Conference
Fun fact: UNO has an NCAA tournament victory. In 1987, the 7-seeded Privateers beat 10-seed BYU 83-79 before falling to 2-seed Alabama 101-76 in the next round.
Preseason rankings: KenPom 317 (out of 363), picked to finish 3rd in Southland (out of 10)
What you should know: UNO opens their season at Butler Monday, then has their home opener vs NAIA St. Francis (IL) Saturday. Mark Slessinger enters his 11th season with the program coming off a decent 2021-22 season in which the Privateers finished 18-14 after losing in the first round of The Basketball Classic (a successor to the CIT that had its fair share of issues) to Portland 94-73. UNO has been ramping up its pace over the past three season. This is a team that went from 94th in adjusted tempo in 2020-21 to 10th in that stat last season. I caught a game they played against Central Arkansas last season. The halftime score was 35-33 UNO. They won it 90-63 after ramping up the pace in the second half. Expect lots of points in this game.
Whom to watch for: Junior forward Tyson Jackson (5) and senior forward Simeon Kirkland (11) each earned preseason second team all-conference honors. Kirkland played in all 32 games last year while Jackson started all 32 games
Wofford, November 27
Basic intro: The Wofford Terriers represent Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and come out of the Southern Conference (SoCon)
Fun fact: Former Wofford guard Fletcher Magee holds the NCAA record for career threes made.
Preseason rankings: KenPom 147 (out of 363), picked to finish 5th in the SoCon (out of 10)
What you should know: Jay MacAuley enters his fourth season at the helm coming off a 19-13 season highlighted by a win over an inferior Georgia team (that somehow managed an upset over Alabama, basketball’s weird). As has been the case for many years, the Terriers shot the ball often and accurately from behind the arc, scoring 39.6% of their points from threes (though 18th in the country, it was merely 5th in their own conference). Also, when they shoot twos, they tend to make them. They finished 18th in the nation last year when they went 55.5% from inside the arc. This will be a stark contrast from the UNO game, as the Terriers had one of the 50 slowest offenses in the country last season, averaging 19.1 seconds per offensive possession (for comparison, UNO averaged 15.5). This is one of the best nonconference games on the schedule, Wofford is a competitive team that can be fun to watch, so if you feel like watching the Tigers play some quality competition before opening SEC play, you won’t want to miss this one.
Whom to watch for: Senior forwards Messiah Jones (25) and B.J. Mack (33) each made the preseason all-conference team
UT Arlington, December 2
Basic intro: The UT Arlington Mavericks represent the University of Texas at Arlington and come out of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC)
Fun fact: UT Arlington’s men’s wheelchair basketball team is a powerhouse and has won the national college championship nine times, including the most recent tournament
Preseason rankings: KenPom 271 (out of 363), picked to finish 10th/11th in the WAC (out of 13)
What you should know: Greg Young enters his second season at the helm coming off an 11-18 season. He’s been with the program since 2009 and came in with junior college head coaching experience. The Mavericks moved from the SBC over the offseason to the more difficult WAC. UTA returns just four players from last year, with guard Pedro Castro (21) having started the most games of any returner. He started the first nine games before suffering a season-ending back injury. The Mavericks weren’t a great shooting team last year, finishing bottom 25 in effective field goal percentage, but were top 50 in block and steal percentage. This should be a blowout but watch out if they start forcing turnovers.
Whom to watch for: Redshirt senior guard Aaron Cash (00) transferred in from Texas A&M, he didn’t have many counting stats, but he played 24 minutes at LSU last season
North Carolina Central, December 13
Basic intro: The North Carolina Central (henceforth NC Central) Eagles represent North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina, and come out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC)
Fun fact: NC Central won the 1989 NCAA Division II men’s basketball national championship
Preseason rankings: KenPom 255 (out of 363), picked to finish 2nd in the MEAC (out of 8)
What you should know: LeVelle Moton enters his 14th season at the helm with a talented roster. A school-record four players earned preseason all-conference honors, one on the first team, two on the second team and one on the third team. The Eagles are coming off a 16-15 season highlighted by a home win over Gardner-Webb. Their 8-5 MEAC record earned them 3rd place in the conference, but they fell in the MEAC semis to 7-seed Coppin State (who finished the year with just 9 wins). NC Central had issues when it came to finishing possessions. Even when disregarding non-conference games (which were brutal), the Eagles had the most possessions of any MEAC team end in blocks and were third to last in percentage of possessions that ended in turnovers. This should be an easy blowout win for the Tigers.
Whom to watch for: Junior guard Justin Wright (5) earned preseason first team all-conference honors coming off an incredible 2022 season in which he earned First Team All-MEAC honors by leading the conference in points per conference game
Winthrop, December 17
Basic intro: The Winthrop Eagles represent Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and come out of the Big South Conference
Fun fact: Winthrop served as the Carolina Panthers’ practice home in their inaugural 1995 season
Preseason rankings: KenPom 168 (out of 363), picked to finish 2nd in the Big South (out of 10)
What you should know: Mark Prosser enters his second season at the helm looking to build off the success of his first. Winthrop’s been one of the premier teams in the Big South over the past two decades, and last season was a continuation of that. The Eagles went 23-9 last season, highlighted by a road win over Washington and a division title. They made the championship game for the third straight year, but they fell to a hot Longwood team by 21. Winthrop returns five players that saw time with last year’s team, including two starters. If last year is anything to go off, the Eagles will be a hot shooting team with turnover issues. They finished the season 6th in effective field goal percentage, but they were bottom 40 in turnover percentage. This is the other highlight of LSU’s pre-SEC home non-conference slate alongside the Wofford game.
Whom to watch for: Fifth-year senior forward Cory Hightower (12) earned preseason all-conference first team honors coming off last season in which he started 26 games and earned a spot on the 2022 Big South all-tournament team
East Tennessee State, December 21
Basic intro: The East Tennessee State (henceforth ETSU) Buccaneers represent East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, and come out of the SoCon
Fun fact: On 9/17/2016, the ETSU football team played their first “home” game at Bristol Motor Speedway against Western Carolina the week following the Battle at Bristol game from the week prior
Preseason rankings: KenPom 228 (out of 363), picked to finish 6th in the SoCon (out of 10)
What you should know: Desmond Oliver enters his second season at the helm looking to establish something. His first season came after ETSU’s coach resigned after one season in part due to him controversially kneeling during the national anthem and the response he got for it. Oliver had no head coaching experience prior to the 2021-22 season but was a respected assistant with Tennessee the previous six seasons. Oliver’s team was one of just two to beat Matt McMahon’s Murray State squad in the regular season (the other being Auburn), but the 15-17 record was indicative of an okay season. Their defense last year was rather poor, ranking bottom 50 in effective field goal percentage, bottom 25 in two-point defense and bottom 10 in non-steal turnover percentage. The Bucs return just two players who saw major time last year, so it’ll be interesting to see what LSU faces in their final tune-up before SEC play.
Whom to watch for: Junior guard Jordan King (2) earned preseason all-conference honors and is coming off a year in which he earned third team All-SoCon honors