A legit three-point threat needs to emerge. I say "threat" because whoever it is doesn't have to actually take a lot of threes. He just needs to keep defenses honest to the point that they can't play sagging, 2-3 zones that limit Davis' production. LSU scored only 16.7 percent of its points from beyond the arc in '05-06 -- the lowest percentage of any team in all of Division I -- yet succeeded by almost always having a clutch long-range shooter on the floor in Mitchell.
Temple has improved his stroke from last season, but he's still a career 24.8 percent shooter, and Mason, who is seeing a lot of action as the first-unit shooting guard in practice, is a slasher and not a gunner. Minor, whom Brady is making "earn" his way back into the rotation after missing last season (and who therefore gets all of his practice reps with the second unit), shot 29.9 percent on threes in '04-05. The best option, then, will be Martin, who can join the lineup for the team's West Coast swing to Oregon State and Washington. He shot 38.1 percent from long distance in 14 games with the Red Raiders last season, and from the looks of it in workouts, he'll be used at both the one and the two.
On to the breakdown:
Heart and Soul: Easy choice -- it's Big Baby. He's coming off a season in which he averaged 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds and earned added respect from his teammates for: 1) coming back for his junior year, and 2) dedicating himself to reshaping his body. Davis also remains, unquestionably, the biggest personality on the team and is its player/ambassador; during Tuesday's ring ceremony he hobnobbed with the guests and, along with Brady and assistant Butch Pierre, manned the presentation process of the honorary rings.
Most Improved: Magnum Rolle. The 6-10 sophomore played only 8.7 minutes per game (and averaged 2.2 points) last season behind Thomas but is well on his way to inheriting the title, as he jokingly calls it, of "LSU's next athletic big man." Rolle is still rail-thin but is making aggressive moves on D and could emerge as the team's top shot-blocker. "He's not even the same player he was last year," Brady said of Rolle. "He's so much better. I think in the same way Tyrus surprised some of our fans last year, Magnum is going to do some of that -- he's a similar type of athlete."
Glue Guy: Temple. He's known as the Tigers' defensive stopper after holding Redick to 3-of-18 shooting, and his confidence appears to have risen to the point that he could make a solid, non-gambling point guard. Assistant coach John Treloar said Temple and Tasmin Mitchell make the smart hustle plays that, "underneath, make the difference between us winning and losing every night." And even though Temple is listed as a sophomore, remember that he redshirted a year and therefore has spent as much time at LSU as his old high school classmate Davis.
X factor: Mason. The Tigers don't have an established scorer in their backcourt; Temple, Voogd and Minor are all point guards and Martin -- another potential X factor -- won't be available from Day 1. Mason could fill that role at the two. He's a wiry athlete who had a nose for the basket at Marquette in his first two seasons (averaging 9.0 and 11.9 points) and looks like a skinnier version of ex-Arkansas star Ronnie Brewer, right down to the headband. The big question is if he'll thrive without being able to knock down the three; Mason's game is more driving -- Brady says he "can go by almost anybody" -- and crashing the glass than shooting on the perimeter.
Lost in the Shuffle: Six-foot-11 center Chris Johnson, a sophomore who saw action in 10 games last year, has the height and shooting touch to get P.T. on a lot of Division I teams ... but probably not this one. He's behind Davis, Rolle, Darnell Lazare and Mitchell on the big-guy depth chart, and once Martin is available I could see the Tigers playing smaller with Martin and Mason on the floor at the same time. At present Johnson is even thinner than Rolle and gets pushed around on the defensive end.
Bottom Line: Watching two days of practice only bolstered my belief that the Tigers are a legit national-title contender, even after their meltdown in Indy. They're far more athletic -- and deep -- in the backcourt, and Davis has shed weight for the long haul. Mitchell was already a star-in-waiting and should have a big season. Ultimately LSU's fate could come down to whether: 1) the M&M transfers, Mason and Martin, can become scoring threats on the perimeter, and 2) Rolle can provide even one half of the low-block defensive presence that Thomas did last season. If those things happen, the Tigers will give Florida a serious fight for the league crown.