LSU’s conference basketball schedule is out, which means the Tigers strength of schedule for the entire season is finally clear. After a 2015-16 conference schedule that had LSU play the top three SEC teams twice apiece, the league slate is considerably easier. The nonconference schedule features four opponents from last season and a highly-regarded Thanksgiving tournament.
Here is a breakdown of LSU’s 2016-17 opponents, according to their finish in KenPom.com’s final 2016 rankings.
LSU didn’t schedule a terribly hard slate last season, even with all the hype surrounding Ben Simmons. The Tigers played four KenPom top-100 opponents –Houston, Marquette, North Carolina State and Oklahoma – and lost to all. The Sooners (seventh) were the only top-60 team on the schedule.
This year, LSU has one top-50 nonconference opponent, Wichita State, which finished eighth. LSU has the potential to play two more top-50 teams, but would need to beat WSU in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis to have a chance to play them.
LSU will play at Texas Tech as part of the SEC-Big 12 challenge. The Red Raiders made the NCAA Tournament and finished 52nd. Regression could be coming after they lost head coach Tubby Smith and two important seniors. A win would still be impressive, but may not have the KenPom credential it would have had in 2015-16.
The Tigers will host Houston and travel to Wake Forest to complete home-and-home series’ that started last year. Wake Forest finished at 125 and Houston ended at 64. Houston quietly won 22 games last season and went 12-6 in the AAC.
The rest of the nonconference won’t provide much in terms of strength of schedule: North Florida, North Carolina Central, Southern Miss, Texas Southern and Wofford all finished 173rd or worse. UNF scored 108 points in a loss against LSU last year. Charleston will also come to Baton Rouge. LSU’s loss to the Cougars last season was one of its three nonconference losses to teams that finished 95th or worse.
Bottom line: The Battle 4 Atlantis is an opportunity for LSU to get some quality nonconference wins, but the rest of the schedule doesn’t have any high-major obvious NCAA Tournament teams. Houston and Texas Tech are solid opponents, but don’t feel like locks for the top-50 or the NCAA Tournament.
Last year, LSU played Kentucky, Texas A&M and Florida twice each. Those three were the highest-ranked teams in the SEC. In 2016-17, the Tigers will only play A&M twice of that group. The rest of their SEC home-and-homes – Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and Mississippi State – didn’t finish with a winning record in conference play. It’s a schedule with fewer opportunities for good conference wins.
Improvement is expected from Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State after their new coaches have all signed at least one strong recruiting class. The middle of the SEC has little separation and is wide open, but it’s unrealistic to expect all three to become top-50 opponents.
LSU’s road-only conference opponents are Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Missouri. The Tigers home-only schedule is Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt. In total, they have six conference games against top-65 foes, compared to eight last year.
Bottom line: LSU’s SEC schedule doesn’t have as many opportunities to beat the teams that should be at the top of the conference. But if the middle of the SEC improves like it is predicted to, LSU will still have the chance for some quality wins.
LSU has nine games against top-65 teams, with the potential to get to 11 with a successful Battle 4 Atlantis. In 2015-16, the Tigers had 10 such games. The strength of schedule will not reach or surpass last year’s level without improvement from the middle of the conference or a big jump from a nonconference opponent. And of course, none of this quality win talk will matter if LSU doesn’t improve itself.