The LSU Tigers placed last in the SEC last year, but are poised for a bounce back this season.
As is tradition, CBB Review is again ranking the top 100 teams heading into the new college basketball season. Each day, we will reveal the next team until we reach the team slotted at number one. Follow along with #CBBRank on all our social media channels.
The LSU Tigers finished 14th in the SEC last season in Matt McMahon’s first year with the program, with a 12-1 start culminating in a 2-18 in their last 20 games. The non-conference schedule produced wins over Wofford and Wake Forest, while conference play peaked with a win over Arkansas in their first SEC action.
The good news for the Tigers is that it can’t get much worse. After starting his tenure with literally no scholarship players on the roster, McMahon managed to convince some Tigers to stay as well as luring former Murray State Racers down to the Bayou. The result wasn’t pretty for a solid chunk of the season, but non-conference play looked okay, and some players, such as KJ Williams (every game) and Adam Miller (on occasion) shined.
Rebuilding after the Will Wade disaster was always going to be a heavy lift, so it’s best to judge McMahon’s first couple of years with a curve of large proportions. Considering the general turmoil of the program over the past few years, McMahon is right on schedule with where the team is, partly due to a great job in the portal this offseason, picking up Carlos Stewart from Santa Clara, Will Baker from Nevada, and Jordan Wright from Vanderbilt, along with others.
Speaking of former coach Will Wade, he finally got that suspension after years worth of an NCAA investigation into bribery and recruiting allegations. Unfortunately, it’s just 10 games. For McNeese State. Against powerhouses such as the College of Biblical Studies, Champion Christian, and Mississippi University of Women’s men’s basketball team. The inconsistency of NCAA rulings and punishments will continue to befuddle me for as long as we both exist.
Click here to learn more about our preseason top 100 teams heading into the 2023-24 college basketball season.
Head coach: Matt McMahon (8th season, 2nd at LSU)
2021-22 record: 14-19 (2-16)
2022 postseason finish: None
Notable departures: KJ Williams (NBA), Cam Hayes (transferred to East Carolina), Adam Miller (transferred to Arizona State)
Notable non-conference games: vs. Texas (Dec. 16, Houston), vs. Kansas State (Dec. 9), Charleston Classic (Nov. 16-19)
PG: Jalen Cook (6-0, 194, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 19.9 PPG, 4.9 APG, 2.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG (Tulane)
SG: Carlos Stewart (6-1, 193, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 15.2 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, 40.3 3P% (Santa Clara)
SF: Jordan Wright (6-6, 230, Gr.)
2022-23 stats: 10.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.1 APG (Vanderbilt)
PF: Derek Fountain (6-10, 222, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 8.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 0.8 APG, 54.7 FG%
C: Will Baker (7-0, 245, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 13.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 0.8 APG, 56.0 FG% (Nevada)
6: Trae Hannibal (6-2, 221, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 6.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.5 ORPG
7: Mike Williams (6-3, 181, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 115 rated recruit
8: Daimion Collins (6-9, 191, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 1.9 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.2 APG, 7.9 MPG (Kentucky)
9: Tyrell Ward (6-6, 180, So.)
2022-23 stats: 3.7 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 0.5 APG
10: Mwani Wilkinson (6-5, 205, Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 2.6 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 0.8 APG, 12 games played
11: Hunter Dean (6-10, 250, Gr.)
2022-23 stats: 8.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.1 APG, 64.1 FG% (George Washington)
12: Jalen Reed (6-10, 226, So.)
2022-23 stats: 3.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.4 APG, 15 games played
13: Corey Chest (6-8, 210, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 93 rated recruit
LSU Tigers MVP: Carlos Stewart
The Santa Clara transfer is charged with filling the gap of offensive production the Tigers missed last year. Stewart is more than capable of doing so. Averaging 15.2 PPG last season for the Broncos, he shot 40.3% from deep. For a team that ranked 246th in the country in shooting behind the arc, he’s a much-needed addition. He’s not the tallest guard, as he stands at just 6-1. However, he’s quite the talented scorer, bumping his average from 5.4 PPG his freshman year to 15.2 PPG as a sophomore.
Defensively, Stewart is a phenomenal perimeter defender. He’s 8th all-time in the WCC in steal percentage with a 3.4 career mark. The 2022-23 All-WCC first-teamer placed 5th in the WCC last season with an average of 1.8 SPG. For fans of analytics, Stewart was 14th in the conference in defensive win shares and 18th in box plus/minus. But for those just looking for the eye test, Stewart passes that too.
He can get to the rim, shoot well from mid-range, and shoot the three at a high clip. What more could you ask for from a guard? I’m having trouble thinking of anything else. Stewart is a much-needed oasis for an LSU offense currently crawling through the desert, and he’s a solid bet to average 12-16 PPG.
LSU Tigers make-or-break player: Jordan Wright
Jordan Wright might be the smartest basketball player in the conference. Not just because he graduated from Vanderbilt, but on the court as well. His basketball IQ is up there near the top of the SEC, and he’s able to throw himself into passing lanes on the defensive end, as well as on the offensive end, where he was second on the Commodores with a 18.0% assist rate. While he did lead the ‘Dores in turnovers per game, his game isn’t built around being a pure distributor, but rather a consistent, veteran presence on the wing.
Another benefit of Wright’s vision is perhaps the most underrated aspect of court vision and basketball IQ: rebounding. To be a prolific rebounder, a player needs to have height, but to be a skilled rebounder they simply need to know where the ball is going. Wright, despite being only 6-5 and starting only half of the games he played in, placed second on Vanderbilt in RPG with 5.1.
Analytically, Wright finished 1st on the team in defensive win shares, ahead of even Liam Robbins, the shot-blocking Commodore center. His steal percentage also led the ‘Dores last season with 2.8%. Jerry Stackhouse’s first recruit at Vanderbilt was one of his most valuable, but the Baton Rouge native will finally suit up for his hometown team and Matt McMahon this season as a quality glue guy.
Key analytic: Field goal %
At times last season, it seemed as if the Tigers had bought their baskets from Dick’s without taking the plastic cover off the rim. Where were you on January 24, 2023? Hopefully not watching the LSU men’s basketball team, who scored 14 points in the first half of their game against Arkansas. While they almost doubled their first-half total with 26 in the second, the 40 points were the least by an LSU squad since a 71-38 defeat to Texas A&M in year 4 of the Johnny Jones era. No player scored in double digits, and Trae Hannibal had the best shooting night on the roster, converting 4-10 for a 40% field goal mark. Every other Tiger shot 33% or worse, and the team combined for a 25.9% mark, losing 60-40. Only 1 three-pointer was converted, by Adam Miller to cut the lead to 40-23. (Cue the Chris Paul meme.)
Overall for the season, the LSU Tigers shot just 41.0% from the field, good for 322nd out of 363 teams. Somehow, it wasn’t last in the conference, as that dubious label went to South Carolina, who still managed to win double the amount of conference games the Gamecocks did. It’s clear that the Tigers need shot makers, and they picked some up in the portal. Jalen Cook and Carlos Stewart should handle the burden of scoring quite well, but after that, it does get a bit murky. Derek Fountain can score inside, as can Will Baker, but the depth of this roster shooting-wise is shaky. Can freshman guard Mike Williams shoot? If the answer is anything resembling a yes, he needs to see the court as quickly as possible.
LSU’s biggest struggle shooting last year was actually inside the arc, as they ranked 325th in 2PT% with a 46.2% mark. More than half of all D1 programs converted 50% of their twos. For behind the arc, LSU ranked 246th with a 32.7% mark. What qualifies as an acceptable mark this season in Matt McMahon’s second year manning the program? Making 50% of 2PA and 33.3% of 3PA would place the Tigers around the 190-210 mark nationally in each, which isn’t great by any means but is still a solid improvement from last year to the next. It’s unrealistic to expect this team to compete for a tournament bid just 2 short years after the Will Wade mess gutted this program. While Matt McMahon is likely the man for the job, it will take time, and it’s not an overnight turnaround. That will be evident when looking at the Tigers’ FG%.
LSU Tigers 2023-24 projections
Projected conference finish: 12th in SEC
Projected postseason ceiling: NIT Bid