The 2014-15 LSU basketball team was nothing but a roller coaster of emotions from the opening tip to the very last second of the season. The Tigers were expected to be a decent team with a dominant one-two punch with Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin, two guys who could score and were close to walking double-doubles. Flanking the M&M boys were shooters in Keith Hornsby, Josh Gray and Tim Quarterman.
The season started with two rough losses in the Paradise Jam to Old Dominion and Clemson before rebounding and winning at West Virginia. The overall nonconference schedule for LSU was weak though despite being 12-2 heading into SEC play.
Once SEC play got underway, it was the same old stuff for LSU. It was a different team at home, pushing Kentucky to the end, losing by just two points. But the Tigers took games off as evidence by home losses to Auburn and Tennessee. Then there was the collapse in the Round of 64 to NC State, where LSU blew a massive lead down the stretch.
Key Offseason Departures: Jarell Martin (Forward) and Jordan Mickey (Forward)
There’s not an easy way to make up what LSU will lose in Martin and Mickey. The two players were stars and would have started on any other team in the country. Mickey was .1 rebounds away from averaging a double-double, as he put up 15.4 ppg and 9.9 rpg. On the other side, Martin led LSU in scoring with 16.9 points per game and also pulled down 9.2 rebounds per game.
The two guys were a scary combo as a one-two punch for most teams in the league not named Kentucky, however both left for the NBA. If one of them came back LSU would likely be a top-15 team, if both came back you’d see LSU as a top-10 possibly top-5 team. They were that good.
Key Additions: Ben Simmons (Forward), Antonio Blakeney (Guard), Brandon Sampson (Guard), Craig Victor (Guard/Forward)
So, why is LSU ranked No. 20 by Today’s U? Because of this recruiting class plus the addition of transfer Craig Victor. This is the best recruiting class arguably in LSU’s history and most of it is due to Ben Simmons, who is being labeled the next LeBron by some. He’s a do-it all player, with the ability to beat you off the dribble or in the post and use his size. He likes to play the point forward position so don’t be surprised to see sets with him doing that.
There’s already chemistry as Blakeney and Simmons played AAU ball together. Blakeney is one of the best pure scorers in the class of 2015 and is crazy athletic for his size, as is Sampson. Blakeney is tougher to guard due to his ability to shoot, but Sampson can change the game with his own athleticism.
Once again there’s a lot left to be desired in the non-conference schedule for LSU. The Tigers are playing in the Legends Classic where they will go up against Marquette and then either Arizona State or North Carolina State and at least all the games can count as a quality win.
The only other Power Five team LSU plays is Wake Forest and that game is in Baton Rouge. The Tigers should skate through the non-conference with no more than one loss on their resume. There is a non-conference game against Oklahoma though in late January, which helps break up the conference schedule and gives LSU a chance for a great win.
In the SEC, LSU does have to face Kentucky twice, including the last game of the year in Rupp Arena. The Tigers also have to play Texas A&M twice, but other than that the schedule works out nicely for them in SEC play.
The biggest thing is not going 0-4 against the two top teams and taking care of business against the weaker competition – something LSU has struggled with.
Preview and Prediction
It’s going to be a weird year for LSU as there is not a ton of depth at the post position. Expect to see the Tigers play a lot of small ball with Simmons playing the four spot, possibly the five spot just to spread defenses. It’s a pivotal year for head coach Johnny Jones as he has a top recruiting class and a somewhat hot seat.
Despite losing their two best players, the Tigers should compete for the second spot in the SEC with Vanderbilt and Texas A&M, but really need to take care of the non-conference schedule first. There’s a good chance the selection committee will look down on the non-conference schedule, but this team is talented enough to be a top-5 seed come March.