After being the surprise team of the SEC in 2008-09 and winning 13 conference games, LSU has managed to win just five SEC games the past two seasons. With plenty of returning players and a couple of key additions, the streak of cellar dwelling could come to an end in 2011-12.
Amid the struggles of last season, there was a very encouraging sign for Trent Johnson in his young backcourt. The freshman duo of point guard Andre Stringer and Ralston Turner made the most of their opportunity and ended up being the only two Tigers to average double-digit scoring.
With Turner's development throughout the season, Aaron Dotson chose to transfer closer home back west and ended up signing with Utah. That leaves senior Chris Bass as the only other guard with college experience. The 2011 Kentucky Mr. Basketball Award winner, Anthony Hickey and John Isaac will try to step on the scene right away and add depth in the backcourt.
LSU lacked a great deal of physicality in its frontcourt last season as no player grabbed more than six boards per game, but that certainly will not be the case this season. McDonald's All-American Johnny O'Bryant and Iowa State transfer Justin Hamilton are two big bodies who will add some needed size and toughness inside.
Hamilton and O'Bryant could easily end up being the starting frontcourt even though the Tigers return starters Storm Warren and Malcolm White along with key reserve Eddie Ludwig. Redshirt senior Garrett Green recently decided to transfer in hopes of pursuing a graduate degree elsewhere. Since LSU has depth solid inside, his loss will not be significant.
Sophomore Matt Derenbecker is the Tigers' only real option at small forward although they could go with a bigger lineup since there is a lot of depth inside. Derenbecker is the LSU's top returning three-point shooter despite only hitting 33.6 percent of his triple tries a year ago. LSU as a team only connected on 31.2 percent from downtown last season which ranked 296th in the country.
With improved talent inside and a returning freshman backcourt that should only improve, LSU seems to have more skill level than SEC foes Auburn and South Carolina, which should keep them out of the conference cellar. However, expecting a huge jump this season would be a mistake.
Player to Watch: Johnny O'Bryant, C/PF
The 6-10, 260-pound freshman is the first McDonald's All-American to commit to LSU since Tasmin Mitchell back in 2005. With that label comes great expectations. O'Bryant is extremely active on the glass and defensive end thanks to his combination of size and athleticism, but he still is raw in his offensive development. He will by no means be an instant fix to LSU's problems, but will certainly be an extremely important piece of the future for Trent Johnson.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/17, 18, 20 vs. Northwestern, Georgia Tech, Seton Hall, VCU, Tulsa, St. Joseph's, or Western Kentucky (Charleston Classic)