Already we’ve taken a stab at projecting the starters.
Now we’re running out a five-part installment that will hone in on the biggest talking points surrounding the Tigers, posing important questions and then providing insight in answering them.
From Monday: Who will run the point?
TODAY’S TOPIC: IS THERE ENOUGH INSIDE?
From the moment Johnny O’Bryant stepped on campus in the summer of 2011 to the moment Jordan Mickey declared for the NBA Draft several weeks ago, LSU basketball was led by its frontcourt.
Even through the coaching – and major philosophical – change from Trent Johnson to Johnny Jones, the personnel has dictated the Tigers go inside regularly and lean on their big men, a group that also included projected first-round pick Jarell Martin.
Now, suddenly, the Bayou Bengals’ roster is a bit lopsided, perimeter-heavy and lacking for capable, proven bodies inside.
The good news, as we peel the cover back and look inside this dilemma, is that two new players to the program – freshman Ben Simmons and transfer Craig Victor – will almost certainly backfill as starters for Martin and Mickey.
That duo fills the “capable” quotient, and some, strictly based off their prep pedigrees and skill levels. But both have perimeter flairs to their game, in particular Simmons, and neither is anything close to a traditional college center.
So while LSU will match just about any SEC team it encounters in terms of frontcourt athleticism, there are fair questions about whether the Tigers have enough bulk down low, especially on the defensive end.
Martin and Mickey, both First-Team All-SEC players, averaged a combined 32.3 points, 19.1 rebounds and shot 50.9 and 50.4 percent, respectively, from the field last season. While Martin, like Simmons, had a desire to play on the outside, he pushed his game more inside as a sophomore to help the team and exploit his size.
Victor, capable of pulling down 8-10 rebounds a game, will need Simmons to pull a similar move to get the interior complement Mickey received from Martin in 2014-15. That may be an issue given the team’s need to have Simmons play distributor for chunks of time.
Even that can be overlooked to some extent, though, because offensively the Tigers will rely on scoring in different places than they did a season ago. A larger portion of the points and shot attempts will come from perimeter players.
It’s on defense where LSU could be most in peril. Simmons and Victor have the ability to match a good percentage of the offensive production from Martin and Mickey, but neither is likely to replace half of what Mickey brought as the nation’s leading shot-blocker.
And, segueing to the next problem in the paint, no returning player for the Tigers has shown that kind of potential either.
Depth was an issue for LSU inside last season, and it’s shaping up to be an eerily similar story in 2015-16 unless one of the young reserves – Elbert Robinson, Darcy Malone and Brian Bridgewater – makes a Tim Quarterman-like leap this offseason.
Bridgewater, at 6-foot-5, almost doesn’t count in this conversation because of his height. He will be useful against certain teams with that 265-pound frame, but the rising junior can’t be counted on night after night in league play against 6-foot-9-and-taller post players.
For that, and to give breathers for Simmons and Victor without dropping off too much, Malone and/or Robinson will have to step up. The preferred emerging candidate of those two would be Robinson, at 7-foot-1, but he’ll have to learn to control his slimmed-down body to be effective, remain out of foul trouble and stay on the floor.
The only other way LSU can bolster its frontcourt situation is to add another player. The Tigers, one shy of the 13 scholarship maximum, are in the mix for College of Southern Idaho’s Ray Kasongo, who is rumored to be coming on a visit to Baton Rouge this weekend. Landing Kasongo, who’s also looking at Mississippi State and Tennessee, could lessen the necessity for Malone/Robinson to develop.
LSU has also been linked by some to Jernard Jarreau, recently granted his release from Washington after his redshirt junior season. To this point TSD has received no indication that the Tigers will go after Jarreau, with the option remaining for the staff to take on a transfer who has more years of eligibility but must sit out a season.
Either way, at this stage in the annual recruiting cycle, it’s unlikely LSU will find a power forward or center good enough to play more than 10-12 minutes a game next season. That only further puts the onus on newbies Simmons and Victor as well as Malone and Robinson.
Oh, and there remains the possibility of Victor not getting his hardship waiver, which would allow him to play the first semester. Should that go against Jones and crew, it will be even more difficult to form chemistry with a brand new front line and even further push the production out toward the wings to start the season.