New kids ready to make an impact
1. While it seemed like years in the making, LSU’s heralded recruiting class will finally get on the floor for games that count. Forward Ben Simmons and guards Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson will have an opportunity to make a sudden impact because of the loss of star forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey to the NBA draft. Martin and Mickey accounted for 42.8 percent of LSU’s scoring and 47.4 percent of its rebounding. An exhibition tour of Australia should prove to be quite beneficial for the new kids on the block.
Holding down the fort early
2. With guard Keith Hornsby expected to be out until December and forward Craig Victor missing the first 12 games because of his transfer from Arizona, LSU will have to get a number of players to step in and keep things under control until they’re back. Jalyn Patterson, Blakeney and Sampson will try to keep Hornsby’s seat warm, while center Elbert Robinson III will have a chance to show how much he’s improved over his disappointing freshman season. If Robinson can give coach Johnny Jones some adequate minutes, the Tigers will be in good shape inside.
Letting the long ball fly
3. After hoisting 658 and 675 3-point shots in Jones’ first two seasons, the Tigers took only 558 shots from beyond the arc last year. With the top three long-ball artists returning in Hornsby, Patterson and Tim Quarterman — who combined for 156 of their 189 makes — LSU should be in good shape. The problem was the Tigers only made 33.9 percent of their 3s, the lowest of Jones’ tenure, which is where Blakeney, the nation’s third-ranked shooting guard in last year’s recruiting class, and Sampson could certainly lend a hand.
Finishing the job is a must
4. The Tigers were 5-6 in games decided by four points or fewer last season — including a 1-4 mark in February and March when postseason résumés are being built. Two of the setbacks were to Auburn, which cost LSU a chance to reach the SEC tournament semifinals and an opportunity to have a higher seed for the NCAA tournament. While they did win a couple of road thrillers at West Virginia and Arkansas, the Tigers will need to get the job done on a more consistent basis this year.
How much dancing can this team do?
5. LSU reached the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 2009, but the Tigers let a nice-sized lead slip away in the first round to abruptly end their season. This team should have a much better chance of at least making it to the Sweet 16 with quality players and a deeper bench that will keep its starters and key reserves fresher — something it sorely lacked last March. If the Tigers can get a higher seed, it wouldn’t be a shock if they reached the regional finals or even the Elite Eight.