The Johnny Jones era will officially tip off inside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center tonight at 7 p.m.
Once a point guard and longtime assistant for LSU, Jones will take in his first regular season game from the House that Pete Built as head coach Friday evening as UC Santa Barbara comes to town.
And if you could script the perfect team for Jones' rebuilding Tigers to lead off with, it would be the Gauchos.
UC Santa Barbara had a successful 2011-12 campaign, rattling off a 20-11 record, but Bob Williams' team is almost a completely new bunch this season.
The Gauchos from the Big West Conference are the third youngest team in America, with a complete roster that includes a whopping nine freshmen, three sophomores, four juniors and just one senior.
They also aren't the biggest or tallest team on paper, another positive for an LSU team which plans to unleash a "small ball" brand of its own under Jones.
UCSB's leading returning scorer is junior guard Kyle Boswell (6-2, 180), who chipped in 7.5 points per game a season ago. Perhaps the team's best overall returning player is sophomore forward Alan Williams (6-7, 240), who posted averages of 6.9 points and 6.5 rebounds during his rookie campaign.
The Gauchos, like LSU, have one exhibition win under their belt to open up this year's slate. UCSB overcame an early deficit to beat LaVerne University, 74-50, on the strength of 17 points and seven boards from Williams.
For the Tigers, who were sloppy but finished strong to beat Arkansas-Monticello 82-66 in an exhibition game Monday, the season opener is all about getting win number one and establishing the identity of the team.
"We are obviously looking forward to Friday's game," Jones told reporters this week. "We certainly feel it will be a good challenge for us against a very good basketball team. (UC Santa Barbara) is a talented team. They are an NCAA Tournament team (in 2010, 2011) that had several good players with them last year. We think it's a great opportunity for our basketball team to find out exactly where we are."
If the exhibition game Monday was any indication, the Tigers are a young, energetic team that will have to improve most in the areas of rebounding and controlling turnovers. LSU gave the ball away 21 times against the Boll Weevils, including four turnovers apiece from forward Johnny O'Bryant and guards Corban Collins and Charles Carmouche.
Of course sophomore Anthony Hickey, the team's returning starter at point guard, didn't play in the exhibition. Hickey and freshman guard Shane Hammink were suspended by Jones for "not taking care of business."
TSD has since learned from a source close to the situation that the duo was disciplined for academic reasons. Both are in good academic standing and are in no danger of being ruled ineligible, but there was a letdown academically in the past week that Jones found unacceptable.
LSU's coach has made it clear he intended to "send a message," and he feels it has been received.
Hammink and Hickey are expected to be back in the fold tonight, but Jones was tight-lipped during the week when asked if Hickey would return to the starting lineup.
"I haven't really decided who our starting lineup will be," Jones said Wednesday. "I thought Corban Collins did an excellent job the other night in Anthony Hickey's absence. There is a chance, if we continue to work him extremely hard, that he could possibly be in our starting lineup. Both guys will have an opportunity to play, but I'm not sure who exactly who will start on Friday. Corban is not out of the question.
"When you have somebody to take advantage of your situation like Corban did and did well, you don't want to penalize him for something that he hadn't done. We'll make sure we make those necessary adjustments, but it won't be anything because of discipline (that Hickey wouldn't start). That is behind us, that all was taken care of on Monday."
Collins, four turnovers aside, did produce with Hickey sidelined. The freshman put up 11 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out a team-high five assists while running the show at point guard.
Fellow freshman Malik Morgan also stood out in the exhibition win, pouring in an ultra-efficient 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting in just 19 minutes of action. The John Curtis product connected on all three of his attempts from downtown.
Look for the lefty to be in the starting five tonight alongside big man Johnny O'Bryant (the team's leading returning rebounder), senior forward Eddie Ludiwg and junior guard Andre Stringer, who chipped in nine points Monday and has shot the ball extremely well during preseason workouts.
The only remaining question is who will begin the game at point guard.
Whether it's Collins or Hickey, expect the latter to get plenty of action tonight. It's his speed, energy and motor that best characterize what Jones wants to do with a more up-tempo style.
G Anthony Hickey (5-11, 178, So.)
G Andre Stringer (5-10, 182, Jr.)
G Malik Morgan (6-4, 188, Fr.)
F Eddie Ludwig (6-9, 209, Sr.)
F Johnny O'Bryant (6-9, 256, So.)
G Dalante Dunklin (6-0, 165, Fr.)
G Kyle Boswell (6-2, 180, Jr.)
G Michael Bryson (6-4, 190, Fr.)
F Taran Brown (6-8, 190, Fr.)
F Alan Williams (6-7, 240, So.)
LSU opens versus Gauchos Friday
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