Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

No. 20 LSU Tigers: Just how good is Tremont Waters going to be?

Leave a comment

Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 20 LSU.


Will Wade is heading into his second season as the head coach of the LSU Tigers and the sixth season of his head coaching career, and this past season was simultaneously the worst of his career and incredibly promising if you are a fan of the Bayou Bengals.

Prior to moving to Baton Rouge, Wade had coached two seasons at VCU and two seasons at Chattanooga, never finishing lower than second in his league standings and, in 2015-16, doing the one thing that Shaka Smart never did as head coach of the Rams: Win a conference regular season title.

Last year, the Tigers finished the season just 18-15 overall, their 8-10 mark in a strong SEC enough to get them into the bubble conversation but not into the NCAA tournament, but when you consider what Wade was walking into, those numbers are better than you realize. In Johnny Jones’ final season at LSU he went 10-21 overall with a 2-16 mark in the SEC as one of the single-worst defensive teams in the country before losing his two best players.

Wade was walking into a rebuild, and it didn’t take him long to get it kickstarted.

And much of that was thanks to a freshman from New Haven, Conn., named Tremont Waters, a four-star prospect and one of the most exciting players in college hoops last season.

He’s back for his sophomore campaign, and Wade has bolstered his roster with a handful of talented recruits from the Class of 2018.

Will that be enough to get LSU back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in four seasons?

MOREPreseason Top 25 | NBC Sports All-Americans | Preview Schedule

MOREMid-Major Power Rankings | The Hot Seat | Perry Ellis All-Stars

LSU WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

LSU is going to look very different than they did a season ago. That’s what happens you lose three of your top five scorers and four players that started double-digit games.

But where there will be consistency for the Tigers is at the point, as Waters returns after a freshman campaign that saw him average 15.9 points, 6.0 assists and 2.0 steals while thrilling fans with an array of deep threes and no-look passes. He’s Trae Young-lite, if you will, and the fact that he is back for another season cannot be overstated.

The reason that LSU was even in the conversation when it came to the NCAA tournament was because of the fact that they could score. They finished the year 33rd in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric, more than 100 spots above where they finished defensively, and Waters was easily their highest-usage player. He’s a ball-screen savvy point guard playing in a system that puts significant value on ball-screens. More than 35 percent of LSU’s halfcourt possessions last season were ball-screen actions, according to Synergy Sports. Just under 50 percent of Waters’ halfcourt possessions were ball-screen actions, and the Tigers averaged 1.022 PPP on those possessions.

For the season, LSU averaged 0.859 PPP on halfcourt possessions. That tells you all you need to know.

In a year where the crop of guards around college basketball is not all that exciting, Waters has a chance to finish the season as a first-team All-American. He’s that good.

The question I have is about his supporting cast.

RELATED: Expert Picks | CBT Podcast | Best non-conference games
Skylar Mays (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

BUT LSU IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

We really don’t know all that much about LSU’s supporting cast, do we?

We know who all these guys are on paper. Ja’vonte Smart is a top 35 prospect and a talented, athletic combo-guard with some size to him. Emmitt Williams is as powerfully athletic as anyone in this recruiting class, and he plays with the motor of an F150. He won’t stop. Naz Reid has all the tools to fill the role vacated by the underrated Duop Reath, a stretchy big man with size to hang with all of the SEC’s big boys. Skylar Mays is a good program guy, as is Kavell Bigby-Williams. The same can be said about the likes of Daryl Edwards, and Marlon Taylor is the kind of athlete that will have a dunk or two go viral before his time in college is over.

But this group is also going to be entirely new. There will likely only be three or four players in the LSU rotation that played a game for the Tigers last season. They could end up starting three freshmen with a fourth coming off of the bench, which is not an easy thing to do when those freshmen are among the best players in the country. Every year it feels like we are talking about it is going to take a while for Duke and Kentucky to come together, and with all due respect to Reid, Williams, Smart and Darius Days, we’re not exactly talking about guys that are surefire lottery picks.

And that’s before we even mention that the 2018 recruiting class as a whole is not as good at the top as previous recruiting classes.

To be frank, it makes it very difficult to analyze.

This group is going to be totally different than last year’s group.

Stylistically and schematically, the dots connect. Wade has a point guard — or three — that excel in ball-screens, and he runs an offense that is ball-screen heavy. His two teams at VCU had talented guards and a bevy of athletic, hard-playing big men — remember Mo Alie-Cox? — and this LSU team has the same. Those VCU teams did their damnedest to continue on the ‘Havoc’ era, and this LSU team does have players that can fly around defensively.

I think Wade will find a way to make it work, and having a player as good as Waters stick around for a second season is certainly going to help, but this LSU team is not going to be a finished product by the start of SEC play.

That could be a good thing or a bad thing.

Naz Reid (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

For my money, the guy on this roster that can take LSU from being a borderline top 25 team to a team that has a real shot at finishing the year as a top three seed with Final Four potential is Naz Reid.

Reid has all the makings of a future pro. He’s 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds. He’s not Robert Williams, but he’s athletic enough. He’s not Dirk Nowitzki, but he shot 34.6 percent from three on the UAA circuit prior to his senior season. He’s not Tim Duncan, but he can do some things around the bucket.

He’s a five-star prospect that is 18th in 247 Sports Composite rankings, a good enough player that NBA teams are going to have to send their scouts to Baton Rouge to get a look at Reid throughout the season. More importantly, at least in this discussion, is that he’s a guy with the ability to have a major impact on the SEC …

… if he decides he wants to.

The knock on Reid throughout his high school career was that his motor never ran high enough. He DGAF-ed for too long in front of too many people, and that is never a good reputation to have. Is that how he is going to play at LSU? Tiger fans know all too well about superstar players that have no interest in being on campus (see: Simmons, Ben), and that is certainly a concern for Reid.

We know what we’re going to get from other guys on this roster. Mays is going to be a good role player, a valuable veteran on a roster with a lot of youth. Smart has a bright future and will have the luxury of being able to let Waters and Mays lead the way in the backcourt. Williams isn’t all that skilled, but you know he’s always going to play his tail off.

Reid?

He can put up 20 and 10 any given night.

He’s just as likely not to show up for a game.

That’s pretty much the definition of an x-factor.

Will Wade (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

2018-19 OUTLOOK

I know this is going to sound weird, but it’s probably the truth: The SEC is as good as any conference in college basketball, including the ACC.

Kentucky might be the best team in the country. Tennessee won a share of the league’s regular season title a year ago and returns literally everyone from that roster. Auburn brings back the most of the team that shared that league title with Tennessee. Mississippi State looks like they will be a top 20 team this year. You are going to see some people rank Arkansas and some people rank Florida. Missouri has a shot of getting back to the NCAA tournament, as does Alabama. Even Vanderbilt looks like they could be a tournament team with the recruiting class that Bryce Drew brought in.

And that, as much as anything else, is what will probably be the culprit if LSU doesn’t end up getting into the NCAA tournament.

Their non-conference schedule is … fine, I guess. They play Memphis. They play Houston. They play Saint Mary’s. They play in the Advocare Invitational (Florida State, Villanova if they win). I’m not sure how many tournament teams or quality wins you’ll find there. They are going to have plenty of work to do in league play, and, on paper, they should have the pieces to be able to get it done.

We’ll see if those pieces come together the way Tiger fans hope they will.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette

Miami lands Florida grad-transfer Keith Stone

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Keith Stone is leaving the SEC but not the state of Florida.

The former Gator will finish his career at Miami as a graduate transfer, he announced Monday via social media.

The 6-foot-8 Stone is from Deerfield, Fla., less than an hour’s ride from Miami Beach. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season before tearing his ACL in January. With Dewan Hernandez, Ebuka Izundu, and Anthony Lawrence all gone from the Canes, Stone could be in line for a major role right from the jump if his knee gets back to full strength.

Miami went 14-18 last season to finish under .500 for the first time in Jim Larranaga’s eight seasons, and it was just the second time the Canes failed to win at least 20 games.

Kyle Guy says he’s staying in the draft, will not return to Virginia

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Guy is off to the professional ranks.

The Virginia junior had already declared for the NBA draft, but announced Monday that he plans to stay in the draft and not return to the Cavaliers next season, as he would be allowed to under NCAA rules.

“I am officially keeping my name in the draft. I know it’s the right step after much prayer and thought with my family,” Guy wrote on social media.

Players retain the option to return to school up until the end of next month, but Guy’s announcement makes it clear he has no intention of utilizing that avenue as he plows ahead toward a professional career after being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player as Virginia won its first-ever national championship earlier this month in Minneapolis.

The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in Virginia’s slow-paced offense while shooting 49.5 percent from 3-point range. Right now, Guy’s draft ceiling would appear to be in the second round with going undrafted a possibility as well. If he does make it at the next level, it’s pretty clear it’ll be the 3-point shooting that gets and keeps him there in a league that covets that skill now more than ever.

For Virginia, Guy’s decision simply crystalizes what was likely the reality already – they’re going to have a completely remade roster, which certainly isn’t uncommon for national championship winners. There’s a reason no one since Florida in 2006 and 2007 has repeated as champions. With Guy gone and Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite all having declared, Tony Bennett and Co. could be looking at more modest expectations following the greatest season in program history.

Duke adds to 2019 class with top-30 guard Cassius Stanley

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Leave a comment

Duke’s already monster 2019 class got even stronger Monday.

Cassius Stanley, a four-star guard from California, pledged to the Blue Devils to give them their fifth recruit rated in the top-35 nationally in the class.

“I’ll be joining the brotherhood. Go Duke,” Stanley said in his announcement video posted to social media.

“He wants to come in and start or contribute as a starter on a highly competitive team,” Jerome Stanley, Cassius’ father, told 247Sports. “He’s used to winning and he plans to come in there and win. He doesn’t plan to be a project, he wants to step on the floor immediately and help them win.”

Stanley’s commitment only further reinforces how strong Duke is on the recruiting trail as it now has five-stars Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore signed along with top-40 Boogie Ellis of San Diego.

The Blue Devils may have lost their high-profile trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but with these major additions along with Tre Jones, Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell slated to return, they’ll be looking at another top-10 (and maybe higher) preseason ranking after a disappointing Elite Eight departure from the NCAA tournament last month.

Udoka Azubuike returning to Kansas for senior season

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Injuries have robbed Kansas center Udoka Azubuike of nearly two full seasons of college basketball. They also likely played a major part on while he’ll be back for his fourth year on campus.

The 7-footer will return to Lawrence and the Jayhawks for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft, the school announced Monday.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason as he still cannot participate (at) what would be the NBA combine or workouts for the NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 70.5 percent from the field before a wrist injury cut his season short in January after just nine games. He also played just 11 games as a freshman due to injury.

In his lone full healthy season, Azubuike averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as he made 77 percent of his shots from the field, making him nearly an unstoppable force for teams across the Big 12. His return makes Kansas, the 10th-ranked team in our preseason Top 25, an even stronger favorite to regain its Big 12 crown after Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the league title last year to deprive Kansas of its spot atop the league for the first time in 14 years as it battled injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

AP Photo/Corey Perrine
1 Comment

This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.