South Carolina basketball beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other team in the SEC as the season approaches.
2012-13 record (SEC finish): 19-12, 9-9 (T-8th)
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Johnny Jones (19-12, second year; 224-174, 14th year)
Top returners: F Johnny O’Bryant (13.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg); G Anthony Hickey (11.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg); F Shavon Coleman (10.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
Biggest losses: Charles Carmouche (10.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg); Andrew Del Piero (4.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Eddie Ludwig (3.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
It’s been a strange trip for LSU, that prideful bunch that has boasted at least three of the SEC’s all-time greatest players (more, depending on who you ask). SEC champs in 2009 under first-year coach Trent Johnson, the Tigers suffered through two miserable seasons before showing signs of the rebuilding process in 2012. Then Johnson abruptly left for TCU, and Johnny Jones was hired.
Yet, as much as last year was a case of never knowing what he was going to get, native son Jones has gotten much more than a head start on making his tenure much more smooth – and successful – than Johnson. He signed a top-10 recruiting class to add to a strong returning group, and LSU is a hot pick to finish in the league’s top four and make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
It starts with the bull – forward Johnny O’Bryant, my pick for preseason player of the year, an absolute monster of a post player who can do just about anything he wants on the block. Anthony Hickey is a veteran point guard and Andre Stringer has done well at the two in the past. Newcomer Jarell Martin, a freshman from (where else?) Baton Rouge, is the latest in a long line of homegrown kids and could start right away, while freshman Jordan Mickey is a 6-foot-8 Texan who was a high priority on the recruiting trail.
Jones won’t have to adjust on the fly, as he had to so much last year, and should be better equipped to handle the end-of-season stretch. The Tigers split their final eight games last year, but this year, they have a great shot to win six of their final eight (at Kentucky and at Florida being the exceptions). Still, it looks good for LSU to have the Deaf Dome rockin’ once more.
2012-13 record (SEC finish): 22-12, 10-6 (6th) *NCAA Sweet 16
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Nikki Caldwell (45-23, third year; 117-49, sixth year)
Top returners: F Theresa Plaisance (17.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg); G Danielle Ballard (12.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg); G Jeanne Kenney (5.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
Biggest losses: Adrienne Webb (14.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg); Bianca Lutley (10.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Kuaneshia Baker (2.2 ppg, 1.5 rpg)
A great example of a terrific situation being handed to a terrific coach. Van Chancellor resigned, leaving the program on high ground, and hot young coach Nikki Caldwell took over a loaded team. She has had no dropoff, winning 45 games in her first two years, advancing to one NCAA Sweet 16 and standing to be even better this season.
The Tigers return the league’s leading scorer in Theresa Plaisance. LSU has its highest preseason ranking (at least in the coaches’ poll) since 2009, checking in at No. 17. Sophomore Danielle Ballard had a monstrous freshman season and still plenty of room to grow. Freshman guard Raigyne Moncrief, the No. 6 player at her position, came all the way from Florida to play for Caldwell.
The Tigers are loaded for bear. While Tennessee and Kentucky, the old and recent stand-bys, are picked to finish at the top of the league, LSU will be circling right under them. The top seven of the SEC will be a logjam, all fighting for one of those top-four spots to get out of two days of the league tournament, and LSU could have the chops to finish above all of them.
Maybe even Tennessee and Kentucky, although the Tigers travel to each, and only host one.
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