LOVE: After Further Review
Upcoming year shapes up better than last for LSU
By BEN LOVE
Tiger Rag Editor
Editor’s Note: The following appears in the latest edition of Tiger Rag magazine, taking a look at the 2010-11 LSU sports year in review.
The LSU athletic program came in at No. 19 in the Directors’ Cup standings for the 2010-11 academic calendar year. What that means is that for the sixth straight year, aggregate Tiger sports - which is to say LSU’s top 20 varsity teams (10 men’s and 10 women’s) combined - were among the top 20 in the nation.
Here were LSU’s finishes the previous five years: 2009-10, 19th; 2008-09, ninth; 2007-08, eighth; 2006-07, 17th; and 2005-06, 20th.
That’s good. That’s admirable. That’s a sign of stability.
However, save the two years in the top 10, it’s not particularly an indicator of overwhelming greatness.
Moreover, it tells me that Joe Alleva and the LSU athletic department brass have Tiger sports on auto-pilot.
It’s not a bad thing at all. And they’ve done it by building a foundation in some of the “lesser” sports like track & field, golf, softball, gymnastics and volleyball - areas where LSU is pretty strong annually.
But take another look at the years when LSU was truly among the NCAA’s elite.
In 2007-08, the Tigers won a national championship in football, the baseball team rattled off a brilliant 23-game winning streak en route to crashing the College World Series in Omaha, and the Lady Tigers advanced all the way to the Final Four, falling one point short of Tennessee in the national semifinals.
In 2008-09, LSU baseball took it to another level, notching the program’s first national championship since 1999-00, and the men’s basketball team won the SEC regular season title before moving on to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
What’s my point?
The smaller Tiger programs, which almost always compete well, keep LSU afloat nationally. It’s the big-name programs - specifically football, basketball and baseball (and we’ll throw in women’s basketball) - that must succeed in order for LSU athletics to really consider itself among the nation’s elite.
Which is why, despite another top-20 finish in the Directors’ Cup in ‘10-’11, I would maintain last year was a very mediocre one.
Football held up its end of the bargain. Les Miles’ troops marched to an 11-2 record despite a litany of questions facing the team at season’s beginning. Did they win a conference or national title? No, but a top-8 finish in all the polls certainly aided LSU’s larger cause.
Moving to the hardwood, neither men’s nor women’s basketball had the type of campaign they wanted. Trent Johnson’s bunch finished last in the SEC for the second consecutive year, and Van Chancellor’s team never shook the “average” label, finishing 8-8 in league play and failing to make the postseason.
On the diamond, a young Tiger squad started well, but couldn’t get timely hits and reliable relief pitching as the season bled into its second half. The result: Like the Lady Tigers, baseball was a no-show (although curiously so) from postseason tournament play.
The good news is things are looking up entering 2011-12.
Anyone who follows major LSU athletics knows the main reason why is the amount of young talent blossoming before our eyes on campus.
Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid, Tharold Simon and Spencer Ware are just four of the true freshmen who made an impact on the gridiron for LSU last season. Heading into their sophomore follow-ups, each is primed to do even more for the Tigers. Then you have the likes of La’el Collins, Anthony Johnson and Jarvis Landry who are expected to do big things in their debut campaigns.
With all these young talents, it’s clear the future is bright for LSU football. But I’ve got news for you, so is the present.
As for basketball, the men welcome in McDonald’s All-American Johnny O’Bryant and Anthony Hickey, Mr. Kentucky Basketball, to join a team with notable sophomores Matt Derenbecker, Andre Stringer and Ralston Turner. And the women are bringing in the nation’s No. 10 class, highlighted by Portland-area forward Krystal Forthan.
Finally, Paul Mainieri has a nucleus intact for what could be the best young weekend rotation in college baseball. That’s how good Ryan Eades, Kevin Gausman and Kurt McCune are. Don’t forget talented infielder JaCoby Jones.
Bottom line: Expect improvements at the top in LSU athletics this year.
Editor Ben Love covers LSU football and men’s basketball for Tiger Rag. Reach him at email@example.com.