With the LSU men’s basketball team’s season opener against McNeese State less than a month away, coach Johnny Jones and his staff have a dilemma on their hands.
They’re facing a guard glut, a rarity for college basketball teams.
So that makes it a good dilemma for Jones and his assistants, who are trying to figure out how to divvy up the minutes to keep six scholarship guards happy.
It’s a task made a little easier by the fact that the Tigers likely will use a three-guard lineup most of the time, but it’s still an important piece to the puzzle going into the most highly anticipated season in years.
“It’s good having guys not only in body, but guys that are very capable ball-handlers, scorers and guys that are real threats and can play multiple positions,” Jones said. “That’s an advantage for us, and it’s something we see in practice each day that we have an opportunity to appreciate. That is going to help us. ... It gives us a certain amount of depth. Sometimes you have the bodies, but some guys have the limitations or are doing other things.”
That’s not a problem with his six-pack of guards — on paper anyway.
The Tigers return the four guards who were on last year’s team, which earned the program’s first NCAA tournament bid since 2009: Tim Quarterman, Keith Hornsby, Jalyn Patterson and Josh Gray.
To that group, Jones added McDonald’s All-American Antonio Blakeney and Brandon Sampson, a former Madison Prep star who was named Louisiana’s Mr. Basketball as a senior. They, along with the nation’s top recruit in forward Ben Simmons, made up the third-ranked signing class in ESPN’s rankings.
As a group, the six players give Jones plenty of options, with each of them having the ability to play at least two or three of the guard spots.
A year ago, Hornsby and Quarterman averaged 35.5 and 33.6 minutes, which may have been a bit much — especially down the stretch.
Gray, who at times was limited by an ankle injury and inconsistent play, and Patterson both logged a little more than 24 minutes apiece.
The flexibility this year’s group gives him excites Jones.
“These guys can handle the ball, they’re good passers and they have the ability to create,” he said. “Most of these guys can play two or three spots. That helps us as a team.
“We’ve got two or three guys who can play the point, which we’re excited about,” he added. “We can probably have a fourth guy at the point, depending on how we want to play.”
Quarterman, who can play all three guard positions, returns at point guard after taking over early in the Southeastern Conference schedule last season. He was the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 11.4 points per game and added a team-best 4.0 assists.
Hornsby started every game, most of them at shooting guard, and averaged 13.4 points while making 39.3 percent of his 3-point attempts.
Gray, who slipped into a backup role at point guard later in the season, averaged 7.1 points and 3.8 assists, and Patterson, who started a bit slowly after having his knee scoped in the summer, averaged 6.8 points and emerged as a 3-point threat while playing point guard and shooting guard.
The Tigers’ depth was a little thin on their exhibition tour of Australia: Gray missed the trip after playing in an unsanctioned charity game, and Patterson dealt with a minor hand injury. But the others were stout.
Quarterman, Hornsby, Blakeney and Sampson all averaged between 25 and 29 minutes, which is what Jones would like to see in the regular season. They combined to score 54.2 of the team’s 87.2 points, with Quarterman leading at 16.4, followed by Blakeney (13.8), Hornsby (12.2) and Sampson (11.6).
The competition for playing time has carried over to the first two weeks of preseason practice.
“There’s a lot of competitiveness,” a smiling Quarterman said. “Nobody wants to be the guy to have the drop-off. ... Nobody wants to be over there on the bench. Everybody’s boosting their game up to another level.”
All that’s left is to see how it shakes out ahead of the opener Nov. 13.
“I feel like we’re going to find a good way to get everybody the type of time and experience that they need,” Hornsby said. “That starts in practice right now, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter: @MicklesAdvocate.