David Cloninger

Previewing SEC basketball: LSU

Johnny Jones
Johnny Jones AP

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Oct. 29 Alabama

Oct. 30 Arkansas

Oct. 31 Auburn

Nov. 1 Florida

Nov. 2 Georgia

Nov. 3 Kentucky

Men

Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Johnny Jones (80-51 LSU, fifth year; 285-213, 17th year)

2015-16 record (SEC finish): 19-14 (11-7)

2015-16 postseason: None

Roster

Schedule

2016-17 media predicted finish: 12

DC’s predicted finish: 13

He’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): G Keith Hornsby (13.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg), G Josh Gray (5.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg), F Ben Simmons (19.2 ppg, 11.8 rpg, pro), G Tim Quarterman (11.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, pro), C Darcy Malone (0.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg, transferred to Cal State Fullerton), G Henry Shortess (0.3 ppg, 0.1 rpg)

He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): G Branden Jenkins (Jr., transferred from Lee (Texas) College, eligible this year), F Duop Reath (Jr., transferred from Lee (Texas) College, eligible this year), F Wayde Sims, G Kieran Hayward, G Skylar Mays, G Marshall Graves, G Reed Vial (So., walk-on)

Top returners: 6-3 G Antonio Blakeney (12.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg), 6-9 F Craig Victor (11.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg), 6-0 G Jalyn Patterson (4.7 ppg, 1.4 rpg)

The Bunsen burner that was under Johnny Jones’ chair last season was nearly snuffed due to the arrival of Ben Simmons, the top recruit in the country who would no-doubt return the Tigers to prominence. It didn’t quite run out of gas, though.

It’s found a new fuel source, though, and the flame that is licking Jones’ ankles could turn into a bonfire by season’s end.

How could that team miss the NCAA tournament?

Injuries played a part in LSU’s rough non-conference schedule last year (the Tigers did finish tied for third in the SEC) but they never got over that rough start. When they scored a mere 38 points in their final SEC tournament game and then turned down an NIT bid, it seemed a godsend – despite the presence of Simmons, the top pick in the NBA Draft, LSU’s lack of camaraderie and chemistry on the court was evidence of a season that just needed to be over.

There will be no expectations this year, but the SEC after Kentucky is up for grabs. And the Tigers do have Antonio Blakeney and Craig Victor, two of their top four scorers, returning. Behind them are two JUCO transfers and four freshmen who could impact, and a lot of upperclassmen who won’t feel the need to get the ball to Simmons every chance they get.

It’s a team that could make some noise. What it has to do is remove any crucial decisions by the coach, who has had his own clock management and other issues and who fans are just waiting for one mistake from so they can holler for his head again.

LSU, as proven with football, can epically booger up a coaching situation. But it will listen to the folks who fill the seats, and if it’s another lousy season, they may have no choice but to offer a cooled-down seat at the alma mater of Pistol Pete and Shaq to the hottest coach in the country.

Women

Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Nikki Fargas (93-71 LSU, sixth year; 165-97 ninth year)

2015-16 record (SEC finish): 10-21 (3-13)

2015-16 postseason: None

Roster

Schedule

2016-17 media predicted finish: 12

DC’s predicted finish: 10

She’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): G Constance Quinn (Jr., 0.0 ppg, 0.2 rpg, softball walk-on who returned to that team in mid-January), F Akilah Bethel (8.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg), G/F Anne Pedersen (3.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg), F Ann Jones (5.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg), F Ashley Humbles (0.0 ppg, 0.7 rpg, walk-on); F Kayla Lee (0.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg), G Amber Jones (0.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg), C/F Alliyah Fareo (1.0 ppg, 0.9 rpg)

She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): F/C Yasmine Bidikuindila, G Stephanie Self, C Faustine Aifuwa, G Jaelyn Richard-Harris

Top returners: 5-11 F Alexis Hyder (12.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg), 5-10 G Raigyne Moncrief (10.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg), 5-7 G Jenna Deemer (9.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg)

I know, I know … you’re as good as your record, and LSU was horrendous last year.

But there are reasons behind it, and they’re legitimate.

Danielle Ballard, an all-SEC selection, wasn’t around (let’s just call it a case of hyperextended attitude). Two of the Tigers’ best players, Raigyne Moncrief and Ayana Mitchell were done after three games last year due to knee injuries. Jenna Deemer missed 12 games with an illness. There were times last year when LSU dressed six scholarship players.

It was a bad year, not caused by anything but bad luck. Nikki Fargas started her LSU career with three straight 20-win seasons and four trips to the NCAA tournament, so there was no eyebrow-raising.

Now to make sure it doesn’t become two in a row.

The Tigers return their top three scorers from a year ago (Moncrief was second despite playing three games) and are poised to be back in the conversation for a top-four SEC finish. If everybody stays healthy, there’s no reason why LSU can’t finish in the top six of the league, which would be more than enough for an NCAA tournament bid.

Fargas has never done anything but win, throughout her playing and coaching career. Last year was an aberration, but it could have a few silver linings.

One has to believe LSU won’t be rocked with injuries another time.

And there’s only one direction to go when you’re at the bottom.

Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState

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