Team preview: LSU Tigers

Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2011-12 season, exclusively on Insider

Updated: November 2, 2011, 12:31 PM ET
Blue Ribbon Yearbook

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

(Information in this team report is as of Oct. 1.)

COACH AND PROGRAM

For a coach who had been a winner his entire career, the last two seasons have been miserable for LSU's Trent Johnson. After a 27-8 debut that included a Southeastern Conference-best 13-3 record in 2008-09, the program sank to 11-20 the following season and kept submerging a year ago with a similar record and finish (last in the Western Division) in league play.

After the season, four players abandoned ship. Heralded freshman Matt Derenbecker bolted for Dayton, sophomore guard Aaron Dotson transferred to Utah, walk-on Daron Populist accepted a scholarship from Southeastern Louisiana and Garrett Green graduated with a year of eligibility remaining and headed to San Diego State.

Johnson knew the SEC would be challenging, but the last couple of years his teams have been ill equipped to keep pace. That changes in 2011-12. Johnson is excited about the 11-man roster he'll have at his disposal.

PLAYERS

A couple of recruiting victories and the return to eligibility of Iowa State transfer Justin Hamilton have Johnson in a good frame of mind. And the Tigers' 6-0 record during a trip to Italy in May made him feel pretty good, too.

"It hasn't been very fun around here," Johnson said. "But it's hard for me not to get excited about this group, when you look at what we've gained. We're going to be able to pass and catch at all five spots."

And for a change, Johnson is going to be able to put some size on the floor with the addition of the 7-0, 260-pound Hamilton (6.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.1 bpg, .617 FG in 2009-10) and 6-9, 262-pound freshman Johnny O'Bryant, a four-star recruit and a McDonald's and Parade All-American.

"After not having a post presence for two years, I'm not sure I'll know what to do with myself," Johnson said.

Yes he will. Just like he used the massive Lopez twins at Stanford, Johnson will put Hamilton and O'Bryant on the floor and be able to run some offense through them. It was hard last season for Johnson to watch Hamilton on the practice floor and not being able to play him. Hamilton wasn't too crazy about sitting out, either.

[+] EnlargeJohnny O'Bryant
AP Photo/Brian KerseyIncoming freshman Johnny O'Bryant gives the Tigers a big-time interior presence.

"He's got a great understanding of the game," Johnson said. "He can pass and he can catch. He's 6-11 or seven feet and 260. Need I say more?

"The bottom line is he's huge. He can score in the post, and he can defend in the post. But more than anything, he understands, whether it's our motion offense or our set stuff."

Hamilton is an efficient and effective low-block player. His field-goal percentage during his sophomore season at Iowa State was the fourth highest in school history. He led the Big 12 in league games only with his average of 3.7 offensive rebounds a game, and he blocked 33 shots, second on the team.

O'Bryant, signed after an intense recruiting battle with several SEC schools, averaged 21 points, 16 boards and five blocked shots at East Side High School in Cleveland, Miss. O'Bryant acquitted himself well on the postseason all-star circuit, scoring 10 points (with four rebounds, an assist and a block) in the Jordan Brand game and racking up nine points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in the McDonald's game.

"Johnny fills a big need for our program," Johnson said. "We needed some strength, and we needed some physicality, and he's got stuff you can't coach. Plus, his motor's gonna run 24/7, and a lot of big kids aren't like that. Once he finds out how hard you have to play and the speed of the game and how committed you have to be, the sky's the limit."

The two newcomers in the frontcourt will have some veterans alongside them. Malcolm White (7.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.1 bpg), a 6-9, 220-pound fifth-year senior who started his career at Ole Miss, had a solid if not spectacular debut season with the Tigers in 2010-11. White led LSU in blocked shots and tied for second in rebounding while starting 31-of-32 games.

"He'll have a much better year as a senior," Johnson said. "He put a lot of pressure on himself last year, which wasn't good. He can be explosive. I think the presence of Justin and Johnny will help him."

So will the return to full strength of 6-7, 230-pound senior Storm Warren (7.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.2 bpg), who was hampered by injuries last season, particularly tendinitis in his right Achilles that kept him out of three games and limited his minutes in the first half of SEC play. Still, he led the Tigers in rebounding and steals (38) and was second in blocked shots (34).

"Taking Storm out of the equation last year put some of that pressure on Malcolm," Johnson said. "It'll be good to get him back in there. You team Malcolm and Storm with Justin and Johnny, that's a pretty good four-man [post] rotation."

Johnson likes his guards, too. Sophomores Ralston Turner (12.3 ppg, 2.6 rpg), a 6-6, 205-pound scoring machine, and 5-9 point Andre Stringer (11.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.6 apg) were the Tigers' top two scorers a year ago. On a team that was offensively challenged (62.2 ppg, last in the SEC), Turner and Stringer had to crank up a lot of shots, an even 600 between them. The sheer volume of shots had to adversely affect their percentages; Turner shot .369 from the field and .322 from three-point range, Stringer .334 and .295. Those numbers should improve this season when the talented backcourt duo doesn't have to carry the offense.

Turner earned a spot on the All-SEC Freshman team despite missing the first five league games with a stress reaction in his right foot. When he was healthy, Turner didn't take long to introduce himself to Division I basketball. He scored 21 points in his first career game against Northwestern State. Before Christmas he also scored 23 against McNeese State and 21 against Wichita State. Turner put on a show against the Shockers -- all 21 points came in a second half during which he drained five three-pointers.

"The thing that stands out about him is his size and skill level," Johnson said. "But he's also working hard not to be one dimensional. He wants to be a complete player. I think he's already one of the best players in our league."

In a league that had its share of good freshman point guards -- Kentucky's Brandon Knight, Alabama's Trevor Releford among them -- Stringer was overshadowed a bit, but he turned in a solid first year. Stringer averaged a team-high 30.7 minutes a game and led the Tigers in three-point goals (57). He scored 21 points twice, against Northwestern State and South Alabama.

"Andre will stretch you because of his range," Johnson said.

Stringer, whose statistics dropped in conference play, will have some backup help this year, which means he could be more productive in fewer minutes. Anthony Hickey, a 5-11 freshman, was one of those players whose stock rose during his senior season and thus was the target of considerable recruiting attention in the spring. South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Butler, Western Kentucky and Dayton all took a run at Hickey before he decided on the Tigers.

Why was Hickey so coveted? Most likely because he's a true point guard. His high school team in Hopkinsville, Ky., Christian County, won the 5A state championship as Hickey scored 17 points and handed out 12 assists, the last one leading to the game-winning basket. He was later chosen Kentucky's Mr. Basketball and first-team All-State. He averaged 18.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 8.3 assists as a senior.

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"We were fortunate to get a player of his caliber [so late in the recruiting process]," Johnson said. "We told him he had a real opportunity to play right away, but that the point guard position wasn't easy, given what we do. But he's welcomed that challenge. He's very competitive, and he shoots the ball better than I thought."

There's a good chance Stringer and Hickey will play together.

Another senior who will lend a hand is 6-1 Chris Bass (1.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.4 apg), who was second on the team in assists last season. He played in all 32 games and started twice.

Another freshman could get into the guard mix. John Isaac, a solid 6-3 and 208 pounds, comes from Pickering High School in Leesville, La. He missed his junior season after suffering an ACL injury, but he came back to average 22 points, 11 boards and eight assists as a senior. Isaac was a varsity starter at Pickering since the seventh grade.

"He's a kid who always wanted to be at LSU," Johnson said. "He's definitely not lacking confidence. Like our other two freshmen, he brings us a level of swagger. I like him because he attacks the rim."

The final two scholarship players are 6-9 junior Eddie Ludwig (3.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and 6-8, 230-pound sophomore Jalen Courtney (1.1 ppg, 0.5 rpg).

Ludwig, who started six times as a sophomore, is experienced, having played in 61-of-62 games his first two seasons. Last season he notched the first two double-figure scoring games of his career, against Tennessee (12 points) and Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament (10).

Courtney's freshman season was hampered by injury, but Johnson likes him. He comes from a winning high school program, Provine in Jackson, Miss., which won two 5A state championships during his time there. He logged double-figure minutes just twice all season, including against Ole Miss when he scored a season-high tying three points.

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: B
BENCH/DEPTH: C
FRONTCOURT: B
INTANGIBLES: C

No one needs to remind Johnson the depths to which the proud LSU basketball program sunk the last two seasons.

"This thing wasn't where it needed to be in year four [of his tenure] by my standards," Johnson said. "That's how I feel about it. Nobody's patient, and I've never asked anybody to be. I don't make a lot of excuses for the last two years.

"But I said this when we got back from Italy. I think these guys played like a group that's fed up and wants to start winning some games. We're capable. Now we just have to go out and do it."

With good size and depth in the frontcourt and some potential stars in the backcourt, Johnson has the most talent he's had since his first season. The Tigers will make a slow climb up the league standings and should be able to find their way back to postseason play, though realistic NCAA Tournament hopes might still be another year or two away.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2011-12 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.