A year after winning the SEC and going 16-2 in the league, the LSU Tigers came back last season and finished second in the league with a 12-6 record and were on pace to make the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season under head coach Will Wade. Now Wade has brought in his second top-6 recruiting class, with 2018 being the other. That class included future NBA player Naz Reid, as well as many of the current crop of LSU players that are looking to win the Tigers’ second SEC title in three seasons. With the current crop of talent LSU has and the recruiting class that they are currently building for 2021, the Tigers look primed and ready to continue their success that started in 2018, provided that the NCAA doesn’t have anything to say about that.
Who’s Back, Who’s Gone?
One of the biggest off season losses in the SEC came when Skylar Mays exhausted his eligibility in Baton Rouge. The 6’4” guard from Baton Rouge averaged 16.7 points in his senior season which earned him All-SEC honors for the second time in his career. The Tigers also lose star sophomore F Emmitt Williams (13.3 PPG) to the professional ranks, reserve G Marlon Taylor (5.9 PPG) to graduation and reserves James Bishop (George Washington), DeShawn Thomas (Coastal Carolina), and Courtese Cooper (Southern Utah) to the transfer portal.
Even with all of these losses, the Tigers still return the majority of their core from last season, including Alabama native F Trendon Watford (13.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG), G Javonte Smart (12.5 PPG), and F Darius Days (11.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG). Outside of their main core, G Charles Manning Jr. (7.6 PPG) returns as a key contributor on the offense end off the bench, and reserve G Aundre Hyatt looks to make more of an impact after playing his freshman season on an injured leg.
The Tigers made a number of transactions during the offseason, most notably their top-tier recruiting class, the headliner being five-star G Cam Thomas. The class is filled out by four stars F Mwani Wilkinson and G Eric Gaines, as well as three-stars G Jalen Cook and C Josh Gray. Wilkinson and Gaines will almost definitely factor into the rotation conversation from day one, but the status of Cook and Gray is a bit more dubious. The Tigers also welcome in three transfers: C Brian Penn-Johnson (Washington), F Shareef O’Neal (yes, that O’Neal) (UCLA), and G Josh LeBlanc (Georgetown). Penn-Johnson is the only one of those three that is immediately eligible at the moment, but all three are incredibly talented and will make an impact for the Tigers in the future.
G: Javonte Smart
G: Cam Thomas
G: Charles Manning Jr.
F: Darius Days
F: Trendon Watford
Bench: Bryan Penn-Johnson
Bench: Aundre Hyatt
Bench: Jalen Cook
Bench: Eric Gaines
Bench: Mwani Wilkinson
Bench: Josh Gray
The Tigers have three bonafide starters that are virtual locks in Smart, Days, and Watford. The two wing spots are a bit up in the air, but having the five-star talent of Thomas in the fold and the experience of Manning, as well as another talented wing in Wilkinson that can spell either one of those players, gives LSU tons of lineup versatility. Expect the seven-footer Penn-Johnson to be inserted into the lineup when LSU is playing a team with more size, but Watford starting as the five will be the normal lineup that Will Wade opts for. Cook and Gaines provide guard depth so that Smart can be moved off the ball, and Hyatt and Gray round out the 11-man bench that Wade will have at his disposal, provided that O’Neal and LeBlanc are not granted eligibility.
Looking to the Future
LSU’s 2021 recruiting class is already at four commitments, which is good enough for 11th in the country per the 247 composite rankings. The headliner of the class is former Alabama target four-star F Alex Fudge, who has versatility at 6’8”. Fudge is joined by fellow four-star C Jerrell Colbert, as well as former 2020-turned 2021 recruit C Bradley Ezewiro and G Brandon Murray, who are both three-star prospects from Oak Hill (VA) and IMG Academy (FL), respectively. With these three commitments, the Tigers are currently at 16 scholarship players, which is three over the NCAA limit. With the current uncertainty of how scholarships will be counted moving forward, LSU’s scholarship situation is something to keep an eye on, and if the current roster rules still apply after this season, there could be some transfers or decommitments to come.
Looking at LSU’s roster, arguing that they have one of the most talented and balanced rosters is not a difficult argument to make. The amount of veteran experience in Smart, Days, Manning, and Watford balanced with the younger talent of Thomas, Gaines, and Wilkinson makes LSU an incredibly dangerous team in the SEC. The challenge will be on Will Wade’s plate to make all of this talent work together on the floor, which has been hit or miss for LSU over the years and has been the main problem for the Tigers. If Wade can figure out a system to accentuate the talents of each player, the Tigers could be a sneaky tournament team that gets to the second weekend. If they are unable to make all of the talent mesh together however, this team has the potential to really disappoint come February and March.
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