Basketball Begins

After struggling through a difficult season that saw head Coach Trent Johnson's squad finish with an 11-20 record with just two wins in 16 SEC games, the LSU basketball team starts fresh Friday night.

The Tigers welcome Northwestern State to the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Friday as they get set to open the 2010-2011 campaign.

LSU begins the season without a senior on the roster and will lean on the play of four talented freshmen and Ole Miss transfer Malcolm White to redirect the program that scuffled in 2009-2010.

Here’s TigerSportsDigest.com’s rundown on opening day:

 

Guards

Returning in the backcourt are junior Chris Bass, sophomore Aaron Dotson and sophomore walk-on Darren Populist.

Bass started 19 games for LSU at point guard a season ago, where the Baton Rouge native scored 2.3 points per game and averaged 3.1 assists per contest. Bass is not a shooting threat, but he does do a solid job of distributing the ball. Last season the Tigers lacked the weapons necessary for Bass to be very effective, but with a new influx of scorers in the freshman class, look for Bass’ numbers to look considerably better.

Aaron Dotson struggled through his freshman year. The Seattle product was not healthy, and it showed. Often Dotson was just a body on the court as opposed to the scoring threat Tiger fans thought he would be. This season is a different story. Dotson is healthy, and, by all accounts, it’s showing. At 6-foot-4, Dotson will play shooting guard and small forward from time to time. He can shoot the ball from the outside, but he’s more apt to putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim, something he could not do on a bad knee last season.

Darren Populist earned a spot on the graduation-depleted roster as a walk-on last season, where he impressed Johnson enough to earn a second go. Expect ‘Pop’ to see some meaningful game action in 2010 as he’s shown that he’s not intimidated by SEC play, and he is a good perimeter shooter. He averaged 14 points per game on a 4A state championship team at Salmen in high school.

Johnson brought in four new faces to help a backcourt that struggled to score a year ago. Gone is Bo Spencer and Tasmin Mitchell, meaning Andre Stringer, Ralston Turner, Jalen Courtney and Matt Derenbecker will be counted on to contribute immediately.

Stringer was Mr. Basketball in Mississippi after pouring in 26 points per game and dishing out nine assists per game. At 5-foot-9, he is a quick and explosive scorer. Stringer showed can shoot the ball from the outside, knocking down two three pointers in the Purple-Gold Scrimmage. While Bass and Populist are distributing point guards, Stringer is a scorer by nature. He’ll be asked to stretch the defense with his outside shooting as well as getting his teammates involved.

Ralston Turner exploded in the Purple-Gold Scrimmage. The freshman was 7-of-9 from the field, including 4-of-5 from behind the 3-point line to lead the team with 21 points. Turner is a 6-foot-6 shooter from Muscle Shoals, Ala., where he shot a shade under 40-percent from behind the arc in high school. He’s long and athletic, and Johnson loves his unflappable demeanor. Turner brings a college-ready body and a smooth jump shot to the 2010 team.

Matt Derenbecker, a high school teammate of Eddie Ludwig, comes in as maybe the most highly sought after player in the class. Derenbecker is fundamentally sound and can shoot the ball from anywhere. He launched six three’s in the Purple-Gold Scrimmage, connecting on two, but showed his youth driving to the basket. The transition from 1A to the SEC is going to have some bumps, but Derenbecker has all of the tools to be good. He’s got a solid build to his 6-foot-7 frame and he can play inside and out. If he can stay away from the turnovers, he’ll be a major contributor right away.

Jalen Courtney has put on 15 pounds since he got to campus in July. He’s listed a 6-foot-8, and he’s very athletic. Courtney can play inside and out and will be counted on to defend and rebound for Johnson’s team. Courtney showed a soft touch at the free throw line last Friday and should help scoring the ball as well.

 

Forwards

Johnson has some depth and experience in the frontcourt. Storm Warren returns after a breakout sophomore season, Dennis Harris played substantial minutes a year ago and Garrett Green has been in the program for three years. Eddie Ludwig now has a season under his belt, and Malcolm White started 27 games at Ole Miss two years ago.

Warren is the leader of the young Tiger team. He averaged 11.8 points per game and has the potential to average 15 points a game. Johnson loves Warren’s toughness and ability to defend and rebound. At 6-foot-7, he’s a bit undersized, but he loves to bang inside and play physical basketball in the paint.

Harris is a physical talent. He checks in at 6-foot-11, but he is supremely athletic and can shoot the ball. He has a nice 10-12 foot jump shot, and he’ll back it up to the three-point line without hesitation. He’s a matchup problem for bigger defenders who have to go out to the perimeter to contest jump shots. On the other side of the coin, Harris only weighs in at 190 pounds. His length helps him defend, but the heavier post players in the league overpower him. White, Green and Warren will have to help him on the defensive side when the Tigers face dominant inside scorers.

Speaking of White, the St. Helena High School grad is back home in Baton Rouge. White will provide instant help inside for Johnson on both ends of the floor. He scored seven points per game as a starter for Andy Kennedy’s Ole Miss team two years ago. He’s 6-foot-9 and is a skilled scorer. White may be the most important addition to the team and he should be in the starting lineup from the word go.

Green, who has battled injuries his entire career at LSU, is the team’s biggest body, and he’ll be called upon to play solid defense and rebound, two things Johnson has preached since day one. Green doesn’t do much in the way of scoring, but his contributions will be necessary for LSU to be successful in 2010.

Johnson said that Eddie Ludwig would have been a candidate for a redshirt last season, but that wasn’t an option. With just eight scholarship players on the roster, Ludwig had to play.

He was frequently knocked to the floor, but he never stopped giving effort. Ludwig has put on some weight in the off-season, and he will be a major contributor this year. He is a great passer, and, at 6-foot-9, he can help rebound. He’s also a phenomenal free throw shooter, shooting 86-percent from the line a year ago.

 

Overview

This group is full of youth and should be exciting to watch. The young players haven’t been shy about shooting the ball in the preseason, and that won‘t be an option. With leadership from guys like Bass, Warren and White, the youth on the team should mature rather quickly.

LSU has the potential to surprise some people this year. Don’t be shocked if the Tigers drop an early contest or two while they break in these new horses, but by the time February rolls around, this team has the talent to win a couple of ball games. Don’t expect this to be the year they contend with the big names in the SEC, but with no seniors on the roster and a couple of marquee players signed for next year, the future looks bright for Trent Johnson’s program.


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