LSU’s men’s basketball team opens its season at home against Bowling Green on Friday night in Baton Rouge, La.
Both teams are coming off successful seasons, and the expectations are high for both entering this season.
LSU is ranked No. 22 after winning its first SEC regular-season championship since 2009 and advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006.
The Falcons, who began their season with a 94-73 victory against Tiffin University on Tuesday, are picked to win the Mid-American Conference East division. They return four starters and 10 letter-winners from last year’s 22-win team that reached the MAC Championship Game for just the fourth time in school history.
The Tigers were picked third in the SEC preseason poll — behind Kentucky and Florida — as they try to reach the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 2004-05 and 2005-06 Tigers teams.
“We haven’t been to back-to-back NCAA tournaments in about 15 years,” third-year LSU coach Will Wade said. “So I think that’s the biggest thing for our team this season — find a way to get back to the tournament, where we can keep continually giving ourselves opportunities to advance.”
LSU went 28-7, including 16-2 in the SEC, last year, finishing No. 12 in the final AP poll.
The Tigers lost all-SEC guard Tremont Waters and forward Naz Reid as early entrants into the NBA, and forward Kavell Bigby-Williams ran out of eligibility. Sophomore Javonte Smart steps into the point guard position vacated by Waters and joins senior Skylar Mays in a backcourt that should be a strength.
“Any time you’ve got two guards that have been with you awhile and you have that high level of trust, I think it makes things fun,” Wade said
The key newcomer is freshman forward Trendon Watford — a five-star recruit that Wade has called a “Swiss Army knife” because he can do so many things.
The Falcons have a head-start on the Tigers after scoring the first eight points of their opener and never relinquishing the lead and going up by as many as 26 points. Junior guard Justin Turner scored 20 points, and junior wing Daeqwon Plowden had 16 points and 12 rebounds as 11 Falcons scored, four in double digits.
Bowling Green had a 61-33 rebounding edge, but coach Michael Huger wasn’t happy with his team’s defense or ball handling.
“A win is a win, so I’ll take it and run,” Huger said. “We have a lot of things to clean up. We’ve got to improve our defense. That’s the biggest thing. We had a lot of careless turnovers. Sixteen turnovers is way too much.
“We’ve got some talent. That’s for sure. Now we have to understand how hard we have to play. That’s a process we’ll have to work on.”
The Falcons were not only picked to win their division, but they received the most votes as favorites to win the MAC tournament.
“This is an opportunity for us to show that we can play with anybody,” Turner said of the game at LSU. “That’s what we feel like. Now we get a chance to show not only the Mid-American Conference but also the country.”
–Field Level Media