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LSU Women’s Basketball: SEC Preview

As the Tigers turn to conference play, here is how the SEC stacks up

NCAA Womens Basketball: Virginia Tech at Louisiana State
LSU Tigers guard Aneesah Morrow (24) dribbles against Virginia Tech Hokies forward Carys Baker (10) during the second half at Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Credit: Matthew Hinton
Matthew Hinton-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 7 LSU Tigers (13-1) finished its non-conference schedule with 13 straight wins

That one loss to No. 5 Colorado set the tone for what was for the most part a disappointing non-conference season that featured more drama than the defending champions expected.

Still, the Tigers seemed to turn things around with an 18-point win over then No. 9 Virginia Tech, a rematch of the Final Four game from last season.

LSU’s highly anticipated starting lineup of Angel Reese, Aneesah Morrow, Hailey Van Lith, Flau’jae Johnson, and Mikaylah Williams have only started in three games together. However, all five are averaging in double figures and both Reese and Morrow are approaching last years’s form where both averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds with Reese averaging 19.6 points and 11 rebounds and Morrow averaging 18.4 and 9.5.

Along with Reese and Morrow, only freshman Aalyah Del Rosario plays major minutes in the post. Del Rosario at 6’6” was one of the highest rated post players in the country and is averaging 7.6 points and 4.7 rebounds off the bench.

The trio has given LSU a formidable presence in the post as the Tigers are top 10 in rebounds, rebound rate, offensive rebounds, and offensive rebound rate (47.2% of shots, the best in the nation).

The Tigers guards Johnson, Van Lith and Williams average 41.8 points. Junior Last-Tear Poa coming off the bench has played a key role with 5.4 points per game and 3.9 assists per game.

Seven players play the bulk of LSU’s competitive minutes after losing forward Sa’Myah Smith (who was averaging 11.7 points and 7.6 rebounds) to injury and guard Kateri Poole (who didn’t play much this season but started the last five games of the season last year) left the team.

The Tigers have the highest scoring offense in the country—95.1 points per game—entering SEC play and shooting 50.1%, which is seventh in the nation.

That offense has seemed to click since leaving the Caymans. The Tigers have not scored under 80 points since even without Van Lith for four games after scoring under 80 three times in first seven games. If they continue to improve, they could win their first SEC championship in 15 years.

LSU was the preseason favorite to win the SEC but has relinquished that spot.

The SEC was supposed to have a strong year with five teams ranked to start the season, but that has not matriculated. Instead, a rough November knocked the SEC to the lowest rated power conference in the NET ratings with just two ranked teams.

The SEC improved in December and is now up to third rated in the NET, but still only has two ranked teams. Rather, it is a league of bubble teams with half of the league in the range of 58-79.That means that the league will not supply the resume building wins that the Tigers were hoping for. There just aren’t many big games left on the schedule.

That might make a one seed difficult to obtain. The Tigers non-conference strength of schedule is in the 300s with only three opponents with a winning record.

LSU may have to run the table to get a top 4 seed, but the Tigers have the talent to do so.

South Carolina

The No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks (12-1) seemed unbeatable most of last season. They seem just as unbeatable this season.

Despite losing five players to the draft, the Gamecocks might be better than last year’s team which fell to Iowa in the Final Four. They have reloaded with seven players scoring over 9 points led by arguably the best center in the country in Kamilia Cardoso who is averaging a double-double.

Transfers like Chloe Kitts and Endiya Rogers and sophomore Raven Johnson have improved tremendously under coach Dawn Staley.

South Carolina has played five ranked teams and has only played two games within single digits. The Gamecocks do have to come to the PMAC, however (Thursday January 25, 7:00 P.M. on ESPN). It is worth noting that had LSU won the game either of the last two years they would have won the top seed in the SEC tournament. That should be the case this year too.

Tennessee

The Lady Vols enter SEC play a disappointing 7-5 (including the first ever loss to Middle Tennessee State) and have the fourth lowest NET rating in the conference.

Tennessee is in genuine danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.

They will not.

Senior forward Rickea Jackson has played just four games, averaging 28.7 points per game. She is healthy entering SEC play and that makes Tennessee one of the contenders.

Texas A&M

Texas A&M (12-1) entered the season receiving votes in the top 25 for good reason.

The Aggies returned one of the top ranked recruits from two seasons ago in Janiah Barker and one of best transfer classes in Lauren Ware, Endiya Rogers, and Aicha Couilibaly. All four players are averaging double digits and have led A&M to winning all their games by double digits

The Aggies are rated 24 in the NET ratings and are just outside of the AP poll. A&M could be ranked coming into the PMAC on January 11 and it should be a good game.

Alabama

The somewhat surprising Crimson Tide (13-2) enter the SEC with the 4th highest NET rating. They were preseason picked 9th but enter conference play as one of the top teams. Alabama has a top 25 win over Louisville and both of their losses (Gonzaga and Syracuse) are against currently ranked teams.

Alabama can stretch the floor well with most of their points coming from their guards and has a talented freshman post player in Essence Cody. If the Crimson Tide are to contend with teams like LSU and South Carolina, they will need to avoid foul trouble down low. Bama plays just three forwards. Bama (along with aforementioned A&M) will play the Tigers twice which should be a nice boost to the strength of schedule.

Mississippi State

The Bulldogs (13-2) are hoping to build off a run to the Round of 32 after being one of the last four in last season. Mississippi State is just outside the poll receiving votes but started the season ranked.

The Bulldogs brought in one of the top transfer classes in the country (note the theme around the SEC) in Darrione Rogers, Lauren Park-Lane, and Erynn Barnum. The Bulldogs, however, are led by players who were there before coach Sam Purcell in forward Jessika Carter and guard Jerkaila Jordan. Miss State’s lone losses to Miami and Chattanooga (out of the top 100 in NET) were without Carter and Barnum, their two best forwards.

The Bulldogs enter SEC play healthy and poised for another tournament run.

Florida

The Gators (9-3) are a pleasant surprise.

Florida is 3-1 against power conference teams with the lone loss being by 4 to a top 25 Florida State team. The Gators have been a bit inconsistent though with bad losses to Tulsa and Marshall. Florida is led by transfer Aliyah Matharu who was a standout at Texas and Miss State. She is averaging 19 points.

The Gators future looks bright with a top 20 recruiting class.

Vanderbilt

The Commodores enter SEC play with the most non-conference wins in program history (13-1). It is a big step in the right direction for a program that has been in the bottom four of the SEC every year since 2014, their last tournament appearance.

It might be an illusion.

Vanderbilt has just two players that average in double figures. If they are going to make a breakthrough in the SEC and rely on their solid defense which has held every opponent to under 75 points and their last six opponents to under 50 ppg.

Ole Miss

The Rebels (10-3) were coming off a Sweet 16 appearance with a top 10 transfer portal class and the expectation was for them to run it back. Ole Miss instead enters SEC play on the bubble.

Top 5 rated transfer Kennedy Todd-Williams has yet to produce as well as she did at North Carolina and an injury ended Kristen Deans season early.

Ole Miss has as a result struggled. They loss to the only ranked team they played in Louisville and have had losses to Southern Miss and Oklahoma (Southern’s lone win of the season).

Ole Miss brings into SEC play a defense that is top 15 in the country in ppg, but an offense outside of the top 100. The Rebels defense is good enough to make a run and they will get a chance to show it when they host LSU’s best in the nation offense on Sunday.

Auburn

The Auburn Tigers (11-2) have yet to give up more than 67 points.

The offense has been less solid with only fifth year guard Honesty Scott-Grayson averaging in double figures with 15.1 points per game. The Tigers have three wins over Power 5 teams including a nice win over Washington State, but are 1-2 versus quadrant one opponents.

Still, Auburn doesn’t have any truly bad losses entering SEC play but draws three of the SEC’s top four NET teams (LSU, Alabama, and A&M) twice. If Auburn can pull an upset or two, they have a shot at the tournament.

Arkansas

The Arkansas Razorbacks (12-3) were picked to finish in the top half of the SEC at the start of the season. Right now, the Razorbacks would probably miss the tournament.

Arkansas enters conference play with one of the conference’s best wins (13 point road win over then No. 15 Florida State) and one of its worst losses (4 point loss to 5-8 Arkansas-Pine Bluff).

The Razorbacks have four players in double digits led by SEC freshman of the year front runner Taliyah Scott who is averaging 23 points and is top 10 in the country in scoring.

Arkansas has the talent to finish in the top of the SEC, but will need to rebound better. The Razorbacks have been out bounded in all of their losses.

Missouri

The Missouri Tigers (9-4) are LSU’s first SEC opponent.

The Tigers have a nice win over Illinois but some bad losses - Saint Louis and Kent State (who LSU beat by 30). Missouri did take a Virginia team that gave LSU first to overtime so they may give LSU a tough one.

Mizzou is led by fifth year senior post player Hayley Frank who averages 16 points and 7.4 rebounds. Their next five leading scorers are all guards as they prefer a smaller lineup that can stretch the floor.

Mizzou last played since December 21, so they also could come out a bit rusty. Missouri hasn’t made the tournament since 2019, finishing with losing records in the SEC every year since.

Georgia

The Georgia Bulldogs (9-4) play a matchup zone like LSU did under coach Nikki Fargas. That has led to some solid defensive performances as they give up just 61 points.

They have struggled though. Just two players average in double digits and have bad losses to Ball State and Belmont (by 26 points). Georgia will need some work to finish 7th in the SEC like predicted.

Kentucky

For a while it looked like the Kentucky Wildcats (7-7) would enter SEC play with a losing record.

The Wildcats closed out non-conference with three wins in a row to avoid that. Kentucky is 0-5 against teams in NET Quadrant 1 and 2. The Wildcats also took a loss to Austin Peay after Austin Peay had lost the prior game to Trevecca Nazarene.

The Wildcats have just two players averaging in double digits with their leader being former LSU player Ajae Petty who is averaging 15.8 ppg and 9.9 rpg. Petty was recruited by Fargas and played 12 games under Mulkey before transferring. The Wildcats looked poised for their second straight losing season since winning the SEC tournament two years ago.