In 2019, Kim Mulkey won her third national title as a head coach for Baylor with a team led by a Louisiana star Kalani Brown and LSU transfer Chloe Jackson. LSU, meanwhile, finished 16-13 and missed the NCAA tournament.
Mulkey won the recruiting battle for the top players from this state and even the top players on LSU’s roster. The Tigers, at the time, were lucky to make the tournament.
It was unthinkable that Mulkey would come here.
Well, flash forward to 2023 and the Mulkey coached Tigers were cutting down the nets in Dallas after a 102-85 win over Iowa in the national championship game. LSU’s renaissance under Mulkey has entirely reversed their fortunes as they start the season ranked No. 1.
The Tigers are now a premiere destination in the transfer portal. Since Mulkey came here, LSU has brought in transfers like Ladazhia Williams, Alexis Morris, Jasmine Carson, and Angel Reese who combined for 77 points in the championship.
That success has allowed for even more talent as the top two transfers in the portal Aneesah Morrow and Hailey Van Lith joined the championship roster making the Tigers a favorite to repeat.
In state, the Tigers have experienced another renaissance. LSU won the top player in the 2023 class and 2024 class from in state. Mikaylah Williams, the top recruit from Louisiana in 2023, might be the best player out of the state since Seimone Augustus.
Willaims led LSU in scoring with 20 points in their 121-36 exhibition win over Loyola of New Orleans.
Along with Williams, the Tigers have the commitment of Lafayette Christian guard Jada Richards, who has been a state champion in all three years of her high school career.
The Tigers might add more talent to go with Richards. LSU is a finalist for the top three recruits in ESPN’s rankings for the class of 2024 along with another top 50 recruit Me’Arah O’Neal (Shaq’s daughter, if the Tigers get them then they will likely have back-to-back No. 1 classes.
The No. 1 class from last year along with Williams included all-American Aalyah Del Rosario and top 100 recruits Angelica Velez and Janae Kent. Del Rosario and Willaims were the second and third McDonald’s All-Americans that Mulkey has brought to LSU joining last year’s SEC Freshman of the Year Flau’jae Johnson.
Those three all-Americans were as many as the previous ten years combined.
The surge in recruiting and transfers, along with returners like Reese and Johnson, has made expectations higher than ever even after losing the three starters. The Tigers looked strong in the 99-26 and 121-36 wins over East Texas Baptist and Loyola. Neither of those teams are in the level of the Tigers but frankly they are not that much worse than some of the teams on LSU’s non-conference schedule (Loyola is ranked ahead of Mississippi Valley State and Queen’s in a couple of computer ratings).
The Tigers likely starting lineup of Mkaylah Williams, Van Lith, Reese, Morrow, and Johnson barely saw action together in the game against East Texas Baptist but started together against Loyola leading to a 42-point first quarter (LSU had scored fewer points in game six times in the previous 10 years).
The starting lineup features three of the 16 Wade player of the year candidates in Reese, Van Lith, and Morrow. It is reasonable to expect that all three might not have as high stats as last season, but it might not drop by as much as some expect. Those three players on going to be seeing a lot more one on one matchups than they are used as teams try to cover all of LSU’s talent. Reese, especially, often found herself double teamed as opponents tried to clamp down on her and force other players to beat them.
Opponents will not necessarily be able to do that this year. Double team Reese, and one of Van Lith, Reese, Williams, or Johnson is left open.
To go along with the talented starting lineup, the Tigers add a slew of depth. Kateri Poole, SaMyah Smith, and Last-Tear Poa played critical roles in the championship run, plus the additions of Del Rosario, Kent, and Velez give LSU more depth than they had last season.
It makes the Tigers a tough puzzle to figure out. The first team to test them will be the No. 20 Colorado Buffaloes in Las Vegas at 6:30 on Monday on TNT. Colorado returns four starters from its sweet 16 team that lost to Iowa 87-77 last season. The Buffaloes should be a good chance to see how ready LSU is.
Colorado has the skill to be a contender in a loaded Pac-12. Last season, they beat a top 10 Utah team that gave LSU one of its toughest games in the tournament. The Buffaloes are led by senior Quay Miller, who is one of the best post players in the country.
Colorado will be one of the toughest teams that LSU will play all season. It will be nice for LSU, for the fans, and women’s basketball to have a top tier matchup like this on national television to open the season.