Trent Johnson inherited a quite favorable situation last year in his first year as head coach of the LSU Tigers.
The Tigers had a Final Four appearance still rather close-by in their rear-view mirrors and returned an excellent amount of depth and talent. Granted, from a team that massively underachieved the year before.
LSU had all the pieces to surprise some teams in the West entering November 2008.
The rest, however, was coaching.
Johnson quickly seized his opportunity and LSU tore through their schedule (other than a massive 30-point blowout loss at Utah) and seemed poised to lose just a single game in-conference heading into March.
And then, rather inexplicably, LSU fell apart. The Tigers lost four of their last six games, and flamed out of an outstanding season which carried heavy post-season expectations.
Ironically, Johnson and his squad find themselves in a similar position this preseason.
LSU loses around 15 percent more production than any other SEC squad, including SEC Player of the Year Marcus Thornton, who ranked second in the league at 21.1 points per outing and second amongst league guards in field-goal percentage.
Also gone is the league's second-best defensive big-man in Chris Johnson, one of the better ball-handlers in Garrett Temple, and talented all-around contributors in Terry Martin, Quintin Thornton and Delwan Graham.
With more to replace than any other team in the league, LSU's recruiting class leaves a lot to be desired.
(#27 SG - 3 stars - 6'4" - 194lbs)
Dotson has lots of potential and great size for his position. His shooting has nice form, but the range needs to increase a bit. Considering the utter lack of depth, Dotson has a good chance of starting, and will see heavy minutes regardless.
(#39 SF - 3 stars - 6'7" - 195lbs)
Ludwig is an all-around player, but needs to work on his speed and man-to-man evasiveness to maximize his impact at the collegiate level.
So, by my calculations, LSU is left with seven available scholarship players heading into 2009-10. Looks like Arkansas isn't the only SEC team that needs to hold open tryouts.
Here's a look at what remains on the LSU roster.
Tasmin Mitchell - 6'7", 245lb Senior PF
(16.3ppg - 7.2rpg - 52.2% FG - 55 stl)
Mitchell will undoubtedly step into the position of big-time scorer that Thornton vacated for the Tigers, and could be a darkhorse for the league's Player of the Year.
Mitchell is one of the league's most efficient rebounders, scorers and on-ball defenders, and will be relied upon very heavily this season. Will start.
Bo Spencer - 6'2", 186lb Junior SG
(11.4ppg - 2.9rpg - 40.3% 3PT - 1.38 A/TO)
Spencer is one the SEC's most unheralded shooters and overall players. He is outstandingly potent from behind the arc as well as the charity stripe and handles the ball with care.
Spencer is marketedly unselfish, though his defense is severely lacking. He also is not particularly adept at shooting under pressure. Should start.
Storm Warren - 6'7", 230lb Sophomore PF
(2.0ppg - 1.8rpg - 15 blk - 42.9% FG)
Warren is more talented than his numbers show, though he's very rough around the edges on on-ball defense and ball-handling.
If he can figure out the game and learn some decision-making, he could play a valuable role for the Tigers.
Alex Farrer - 6'5", 200lb Senior SG
(1.7ppg - 0.8rpg - 72.2% FT - 1.06 A/TO)
Farrer isn't a standard bench-warmer, as he can provide some valuable minutes without being a liability. His ball-handling and decent mark from the charity stripe alone warrants him playing time.
Although there's simply no denying Johnson's coaching talents, 2009-10 should be a long season without some miracles.
Cupcakes : UL-Monroe (H), Indiana St. (H), UL-Lafayette (H), Northwestern St. (H), Southeastern Louisiana (H), Nicholls St. (H), Rice (H), McNeese St. (H)
Real Games : Utah (H)
Marquee Matchups : Washington St. (A), Xavier (A)
Opposite Division : South Carolina (A), Florida (A), Tennessee (H), Kentucky (H), Vanderbilt (A), Georgia (H)
Predicted Result : (13-14, 4-12), No Postseason
Analysis : This is an appropriate schedule for a team that should struggle. Some chances at big upsets and plenty of cupcakes.
Points : 41.61 percent (12th—SEC Avg: 73.81 percent)
Rebounds : 36.17 percent (12th—SEC Avg: 75.80 percent)
One of many positives of a talented coach is that the possibility of a surprisingly positive season is always present. Johnson won't have much depth to work with this season, but stranger things have happened.