The 2014-15 men’s basketball season didn’t end the way LSU wanted it to when it started with great expectations, but they did take another step under coach Johnny Jones. Three years in, he’s gone from not making the postseason to the NIT to the NCAA tournament. Expectations will nonetheless be even greater next season with an expected top-10 recruiting class, led by the nation’s top player in 6-foot-10 forward Benny Simmons, on board. Until they throw the ball up again in November, here are five things that will have a direct impact on what we see a year from now at tournament time.
1. Decision time
You can’t start a discussion of LSU’s future without talking about All-Southeastern Conference forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey. Will they stay, or will they go to the NBA? We don’t know, but if at least one returns, the Tigers will once again have an imposing presence down low with Simmons in the mix. Martin and Mickey, who are already projected as early second-round picks, will probably seek official NBA evaluations before the April 26 deadline for applying for the draft.
2. Coming and going?
Simmons, of course, is the headliner of this year’s recruiting class. Guard Antonio Blakeney, who is committed, ranks 14th on the ESPN 100 list; and LSU is after another star in guard Malik Newman, who’s rated fourth overall. Throw in Arizona transfer Craig Victor, a 6-7 forward who will be eligible in December, and LSU has an impressive group of newcomers even if Newman goes elsewhere. Depending on what Martin and Mickey do, LSU could lose only one scholarship player in senior John Odo.
3. Who’ll step up?
Sophomore guard Tim Quarterman took a major step forward from his freshman season and blossomed into arguably the team’s MVP when you consider his offense, defense and leadership. LSU would definitely benefit from having Aaron Epps, Elbert Robinson III and Brian Bridgewater take a similar path from Year 1 to Year 2 because it just didn’t have enough depth this year. Four players averaged more than 33 minutes a game, so if any of the above can help out, it could make a huge difference.
4. Bigger and better
If Martin and/or Mickey stay, the program would certainly benefit. They, in turn, would also get better from having another year to build their upper bodies, particularly Mickey, and probably work their way into the middle of the first round. They would benefit even more offensively with Simmons, who shot 71 percent from the field this season, drawing some of the attention away down low. Simmons is more than a willing passer if opposing teams try sending two or three defenders his way.
5. For starters …
If one of the two bigs leave, LSU could have Simmons and Martin/Mickey down low with the powerful Victor at the other forward. That would leave Quarterman or Jalyn Patterson at the point, with Keith Hornsby at shooting guard. Quarterman could return to his sixth-man role, giving the Tigers the bench scoring they didn’t have when he went into the starting lineup. Or it could be Quarterman at the point with Patterson and Blakeney coming off the bench, giving Jones more options than he did this season.