This will be a critical season for LSU head coach John Brady, who has had an roller-coaster seven-year stay with the Tigers.
"He's averaged [more than] 19 wins a year for the last five years, but evidently that's not enough," said LSU athletic director Skip Bertman, who withstood a good deal of pressure from rabid fans -- some powerful and some not -- to fire Brady after last season. "Maybe he needs to win 20 or 21, I don't know. I don't like to put a number on those things, because they don't always show success. One of the things I want to see in addition to wins is increased attendance. That's big for me. It would be good for him to advance in the NCAA tournament, too. I'm not saying that's a job contingency, but it would be good not to lose in the first round."
Brady has the personnel to reach the NCAA tournament, and perhaps advance a round or two. Power forward Jaime Lloreda is gone, but SEC Freshman of the Year Brandon Bass is back after a flirtation with the NBA and will join 6-foot-9, 310-pound freshman Glen Davis, a McDonald's All-American from Baton Rouge. Talented guards Darrel Mitchell, Antonio Hudson and Tack Minor return, along with forward Regis Koundjia, a Parade All-American in 2003 who had a disappointing freshman year.
FRONTCOURTBass was among the best players in the SEC last season until Lloreda started missing games due to injury. Then Bass wilted. The plan is to have Davis, who averaged 26.4 points and 14.3 rebounds for University High last season, take some of the pressure off Bass around the basket.
"This may sound a little strange," Brady said, "but [Davis] can also shoot the 3-pointer quite well. So he's got a nice package. They're going to have to come out and guard him, which will open it up for Brandon around the goal."
Reserves will include sophomores Darnell Lazare, who played more than expected last season, and Ross Neltner, who improved late in the season.
BACKCOURTMitchell, one of the quickest players in the SEC, emerged as the Tigers' top threat from 3-point range last season and pushed Antonio Hudson out of the starting lineup at the 2-guard.
If Mitchell and the equally quick Minor, a shoot-first point guard, can get their directions straight and Brady lets them run, the Tigers could have an effective fast break. The erratic Minor is the key. He had more turnovers (55) than assists (49) last season but showed flashes of brilliance while creating hot flashes for Brady.
"With Tack, sometimes you need to absorb a lot of the good with some of the bad," Brady said. "He's a player that's always trying to make something happen."
Minor started only twice ahead of Xavier Whipple last year, but Brady plans to let him go this year.
"You can always loosen up," Brady said. "If you start on them hard and mold them, then you can always loosen up the reins. I'm going to give him more freedom as he matures and earns it. Our team wants to run and fast break a little bit more, and Tack can advance the ball quickly and break down defenders."
Hudson and Whipple are the only seniors on the team.
FINAL ANALYSISLSU lacked leadership and chemistry last season and it showed down the stretch. Brady is looking for Bass, Hudson and Whipple to fill that role that Lloreda could not last season.
"I want to lead this team this year by what I do," Bass said. "I want to show my teammates by my actions, not by what I say. I don't want to just talk. I want to play well so my teammates will work as hard as me."
Brady would do well to talk less, delegate and let the Ws speak for him.
"I think what's happened here is the women went to the Final Four, the football team won the national championship, the baseball team went to Omaha and the track team always wins national championships," Brady said. "We want to do what everybody else is doing -- not be good but great. I think we're making progress to do that."
This could be his last chance to make that jump.