The second year of the Will Wade era of LSU basketball will kickoff tonight at 7:30 when the No. 23 Tigers host Southeastern Louisiana at the PMAC in a game that will be aired on SEC Network+.
The Tigers have a highly-anticipated group of newcomers that should get leadership by experienced leadership in guys like Tremont Waters and Skylar Mays.
“We’re excited just to get going,” said LSU head coach Will Wade. “We’ve been working really hard. They finally sense its close and they have something tangible in front of them. The scrimmages were great… but there’s nothing like a game.
“The curtain’s coming back and there’s nowhere to hide on Tuesday night. You are what your habits have been built up to be to this point.”
Here’s what LSU fans can expect to see and some things to look out for tonight in the Tigers’ long-awaited season opener.
From Naz Reid and Emmitt Williams in the post to Ja’vonte Smart in the backcourt this LSU squad is loaded with freshmen expected to play significant minutes this season.
Reid only plans on being in Baton Rouge for a few months as he has high hopes and relatively high probability of earning a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft if things go his way this season.
The versatile big man can score in a variety of ways and make plays from any position on the court. With guys like Waters and Smart passing to him, he should have a field day against smaller posts like Southeastern brings to the table.
Smart is a Baton Rouge native with a high basketball IQ and an improved shot after spending his off-season making 500 3-pointers per day. His primary job this season is to take pressure off Waters and allow him to play off the ball some.
“Last year I had to do a lot,” Waters said. “This year I should be able to play more freely. I’ll actually be able to play my game without forcing a lot of things. Just knowing the ball will be in someone else’s hands who can actually protect the ball, that’s going to be a big thing.”
If that improved shot translates in live games, defenders of Smart will have to pick their poison, either playing on him and risk getting blown by with his ball-handling and finishing ability or play off him and give him room to shoot or find an open man to pass to.
Forwards Emmitt Williams and Darius Days will also play significant minutes this year as tweeners with different skill sets. Despite Williams’ relatively small stature (6-foot-6, 225 pounds), he’s a bruiser in the post with a proclivity for rebounding.
Meanwhile, Days is an effective scorer who can hurt defenses in a variety of ways.
Southeastern scouting report
The defending Southland Conference regular season co-champion Lions lost their leading scorer in forward Jordan Capps, but they plan on competing with a relatively experienced roster led by a solid point guard in Marlain Veal.
“We play Southeastern, who won the Southland Conference last year, and got their point guard back, Veal, who is extremely extremely talented from New Orleans,” Wade said at his L’Auberge Luncheon. “Top 20 in the country last year in both assists and steals. We got beat by Stephen F. Austin last year. He had 27 points and eight assists against Stephen F. Austin. He’s a very, very good player.”
Fortunately for the Tigers, Veal is questionable for Tuesday night’s game due to a knee injury. He averaged 12.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game last season.
SLU also has a solid forward in 6-foot-7 Moses Greenwood who really came into his own toward the end of last season. He had a career night against one of the SLC’s best defensive posts in McNeese State last season, posting 20 points and a block off the bench.
The Lions also added a couple solid transfers in junior guards Von Julien (Tulane) and Kajon Brown (BYU) who should add some depth in the backcourt.
What to expect
Look for the Tigers to play fast and loose with a multitude of different sets. Wade will likely look to experiment with rotations a bit early in the season, especially against teams like SLU which LSU outmatches virtually everywhere on the floor.
Junior guard Marlon Taylor is questionable for the game due to a finger injury, but if he gets in the game watch out for him to make something happen with his freakish athleticism.
Also look for Kavell Bigby-Williams to play a major role in LSU’s defense as a rim protector and a shot blocker. The Tigers struggled immensely in the post last season defensively and in rebounding, and Wade hopes the 6-foot-11 forward who transferred from Oregon will play a big role in mending that hole in the Tigers’ game this season.
“So far mostly I’ve been playing with Naz (Reid),” Bigby-Williams said. “Naz is more of a skill big, and I’m more of big that focuses more on the defensive side, so we complement each other pretty well.”
Waters will run the point, but don’t be surprised if you see Smart, Mays or even Reid take the ball up the floor when the Tigers are playing tempo.
There has also been increased talk of the Tigers implementing more full-court defense this season. If Wade puts that into effect, expect it to be early on as LSU tries to build a lead early on.