Top storylines for the LSU women’s basketball season _lowres

LSU's Danielle Ballard, right, attempts a layup past the defense of Louisville's Bria Smith during the first half in a regional semifinal game at the NCAA women's college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

1. When does Danielle Ballard return?

1 The junior All-SEC guard was indefinitely suspended for a violation of unspecified team rules before LSU’s two exhibition games. Her status remains unchanged. Ballard is allowed to practice with the team, so her absence isn’t permanent at this point. LSU desperately needs her back to have a chance to be an NCAA tournament team. Ballard is the Lady Tigers’ top returning scorer and rebounder despite being just 5-foot-9, and she can be a disruptive defensive presence as evidenced by her school-record 100 steals as a freshman. Expect her back at some point, but she may be running out of chances.

2. How will LSU’s new post players perform?

There’s no doubt LSU took a big hit in the paint with the departure of 6-5 All-SEC senior forward Theresa Plaisance and 6-4 senior center Shanece McKinney. Replacing them are 6-3 junior Ann Jones (a transfer from Memphis) and 6-0 Akilah Bethel (a transfer from West Virginia). They’ll be bolstered by 6-2 senior Sheila Boykin, 6-3 freshman Alliyah Fareo and 6-1 junior Anne Pedersen, though she will mostly play the perimeter. Jones and Bethel are capable players, but they will be at a height disadvantage at times and will need Ballard to help crash the boards.

3. Will LSU’s style of play change?

Plaisance and McKinney were not fast. The Lady Tigers may be smaller this season but, like a downsized corporation, coach Nikki Caldwell hopes her squad is more nimble and adept at making opponents play 94 feet. Caldwell has always wanted to employ more of a running, pressing style but never had enough players to do it, and frankly her Lady Tigers often look stilted in the half-court game. Now she has her chance. Expect to see more of the team that sped past Georgia Tech 98-78 in the NCAA tournament in March.

4. How will Rina Hill handle the point?

With oft-injured senior Jeanne Kenney gone and Ballard in limbo, Caldwell is putting her trust in sophomore Rina Hill to run the offense. Hill played just 15 minutes per game last season but will be counted on so much more to distribute the ball and provide the occasional offensive spark. She’ll be helped by sophomore Raigyne Moncrief, back from her knee injury and apparently rounding into her former self. A big variable will be the play of freshman Jenna Deemer from Ursuline in New Orleans. She was sensational in LSU’s two exhibitions, a combined 12-of-15 from the field with seven 3-pointers.

5. What are reasonable expectations for this season?

Even if Ballard plays as expected, LSU is going to have a hard climb past the middle of the SEC pack to earn a top-four seed in the conference tournament. Beyond that, LSU is aiming for a fourth NCAA tournament bid in as many tries under Caldwell. But unlike the last three years when LSU bid for and hosted first- and second-round games, those sites will automatically go to top four regional seeds this time. That goal looks to be beyond this team’s grasp. Any kind of NCAA bid, home or away, would be an achievement.