Projecting LSU's Starters in 2015-16

A number of high-profile parts are entering and exiting the turnstiles of LSU basketball this offseason. TSD publisher Ben Love takes an early crack at projecting the starting five.

The most talented LSU basketball team in at least seven seasons is being assembled in Baton Rouge, buoyed by this week's National Letter of Intent signatures from blue-chip backcourt prospects Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson.

TSD takes a very early stab at naming the five starters for the 2015-16 Tigers, complete with Scout's recruiting profiles for all five (especially fun for the older players), and then dives into rotational talk and minutes for a team that projects to be deeper than its predecessor.

PROJECTED STARTERS



No player in the SEC made more of a leap this past season than Tim Quarterman. The 6-foot-6 guard truly was LSU's Swiss Army knife, finishing the campaign first on the team in assists and steals, third in rebounding and fourth in scoring. To boot he was also voted the Tigers' best defensive player at a recent year-ending banquet. Quarterman's versatility makes him incredibly valuable, particularly on this team, where a point guard is needed. He showed last season he can excel coming off the bench, but it would be a shocker if Quarterman weren't a starter as a junior.


When you land the highest-rated guard prospect the program has had since arguably Randy Livingston (from the recruiting Class of 1993), you start him. Such is the case with Blakeney, a consensus five-star shooting guard and one of the nation's best flat-out scorers from the 2015 crop. At 6-foot-4, Blakeney fits the mold Johnny Jones is seeking at the off-guard spot. He's capable of posting 20 points on almost any night, given enough shots, making Blakeney a matchup focal point for opposing wings.


LSU's most experienced, durable and consistent returning player, Keith Hornsby is another virtual lock for the starting lineup. The son of Grammy winner Bruce made a name for himself last season as a junior, ending his first run in the SEC averaging 13.4 points a game and shooting almost 39.4 percent from deep. Hornsby gives the Tigers their best deep threat and is a proven leader. He's a touch undersized to defend opposing threes, but with Quarterman in tow, Hornsby can play the three interchangeably with Blakeney on offense and let Quarterman deal with taller, bigger perimeter foes on the other end.


The same logic that applied to Blakeney goes doubly for Ben Simmons, arguably the best overall signee to enroll at LSU since The Diesel, Shaquille O'Neal. Nearing 6-foot-10, Simmons' size informs his ability to play the four on the college level, particularly to aid the Tigers' rebounding cause inside on defense. But when LSU has the ball, look for Simmons to spend a good deal of time as a point-forward for the team. He'll be dynamite in that on-ball role in transition and in late-game situations. There are a plethora of ways to use a player with Simmons' abilities and acumen. He just has to be on the floor, a lot.


Unfortunately for LSU this last starter technically merits an asterisk next to his name. That's because it's not yet known if Craig Victor will be eligible for the first semester. If he gets the hardship waiver and can play all season, Victor will start from jump street. If not, and he comes in mid-stream (but still before SEC play), it may take a few games to acclimate, but Victor will be a starter. He's a little slept-on because of the transfer from Arizona and because people in Louisiana haven't seen him since his junior season, but Victor is a bona fide SEC talent. In a thin LSU frontcourt, he'll command big minutes.

TALKING MINUTES


It's far too early to begin projecting average minutes per game for the 2015-16 Tigers (let's see how the final roster shapes up first), but this section is meant to get everyone at least thinking along those lines.

And the best barometer is not average minutes per game for the season, considering coaches experiment in non-conference play and the competition takes a dip, but rather average minutes played in SEC games.

Here's a listing of how LSU split the P.T. Pie in conference action this past season:

Jordan Mickey - 36.8 mpg
Keith Hornsby - 36.7 mpg
Jarell Martin - 35.3 mpg
Tim Quarterman - 34.2 mpg
Jalyn Patterson - 28.6 mpg
Josh Gray - 21.8 mpg
Darcy Malone - 11.1 mpg
Brian Bridgewater - 5.3 mpg
*Remaining players 3.8 mpg or less

There are two important takeaways as it pertains to the upcoming season of LSU basketball.

First, early NBA Draft entrants Martin and Mickey combined for 72.1 minutes a game, or 36.1 percent of total minutes played by LSU basketball. That's a lot to replace, particularly for a Tiger team that will be much more perimeter-oriented.

To that point many of LSU's best lineup configurations in 2015-16 figure to include three guards (four if you count Simmons in that mix given his ball-handling), so the distribution of minutes will shift to reflect that.

The second brass tack relates to depth. This past season LSU had very little of it, evidenced by four players logging at least 34.2 minutes a game, something which undeniably hurt the Tigers late in ballgames.

While the best players will stay play a bunch of minutes next season, the burden should be lessened - at least incrementally - given experienced, more worthy players coming off the bench.

If the five projected starters above hold true, that would leave Patterson as a key reserve. Behind him are Gray and incoming freshman Brandon Sampson on the perimeter. On the interior, Bridgewater, Malone, Aaron Epps and Elbert Robinson are expected to give more minutes than they did last season, when they combined to log 299 minutes in SEC action (for comparison sake, Gray logged 393 minutes by himself).

So while the top dogs - Hornsby, Quarterman and Simmons - may still approach averages in the low-to-mid 30s, expect the rest of the average minutes to spread out more. Instead of a drastic drop-off after six players, it's realistic that players seven and eight could be in the low teens instead of single digits.



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