As No. 22 LSU prepares for year three under head coach Will Wade, the team is striving to leave last season's accomplishments in the dust, leaving way for a new season stocked full of expectations.
The returning players, who received their SEC championship rings this past weekend, will be tasked with showing the six newcomers to the roster, what it takes to win at college basketball's highest level.
On Monday afternoon, Wade sat down with the media to provide insights into the 2019 team with its first [exhibition] game now days away.
Team is fully healthy ahead of first exhibition game Nov. 2
Wade said the team is "as healthy as we've been" ahead of LSU's scrimmage against Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
Sophomore point guard Javonte Smart missed Saturday's practice open to the public due to a minor shoulder injury. Wade said Smart would be able to practice this week in preparation for the game against Louisiana Tech this weekend.
"He should practice today and all week," Wade said. "We're really as healthy as we've been in a while. We're a little banged up, some nicks and bruises, just as you go through preseason but in terms of injuries we're in very good shape."
Freshman Aundre Hyatt will also be cleared to play in the exhibition game against Louisiana Tech. Hyatt has been recovering from a knee injury sustained in August but Wade said he's been practicing in a limited manner recently and should be cleared to play this weekend.
The Tigers travel to Ruston on Saturday for a "Hoops 4 Disaster Relief" exhibition game after a tornado ravaged the city over the Spring, requiring months of recovery.
LSU will be adjusting to new style of play in 2019 with smaller roster
With the tallest players on the Tiger's 2019 roster being listed at 6-foot-9, gone are the days of near seven-footers Kavell Bigby-Williams and Naz Reid manning the paint, requiring LSU to switch up its style of play.
That's no problem according to Wade, who said he has more experience with handling smaller rosters and said if anything, last year's roster was harder for him to manage.
"I'm much more used to coaching a team like the team we've got now," Wade said. "I've always had smaller, quicker teams so this is a lot more normal and what I feel comfortable coaching."
So what does that style look like? Ball movement is going to be at a premium and typically with smaller, more athletic teams that means pushing the pace out in transition.
One area that Wade said the team will have to excel in is the rebounding department. In 2018, the combination of size and athleticism allowed LSU to finish towards the top in both offensive and defensive rebounds. This year, the athleticism still exists, but the size is a bit lacking.
"We can't gamble quite as much on the boards," Wade said. "Once you get into rotations we're going to get major mismatches with guards blocking out bigs so we're just not going to be quite as built for that. There's some things schematically we've changed defensively to try to help with that and trying to make sure we play to our strengths."
With that new style of play, comes with a lower margin for error. In 2018, Wade said, if the team made mistakes it could combat those mistakes with plays only they could make. This year, the mistakes have to be minimal to have sustained success.
"We're just not going to quite have the margin of error but that doesn't mean we're not going to have a great year," Wade said. "We're just going to have to be tighter in a lot of areas than we were last year and really play to our strengths and minimize the high risk stuff that we did last year."
How the returning players have developed in year two under Wade
LSU returns a number of key players from last year's Sweet Sixteen team that are now entering year two under the program. Those players include Smart, forwards Emmitt Williams and Darius Days as well as guard Marlon Taylor.
All of those players went through the NBA circuit last offseason to better gage where they're at in their development. For Smart, Wade said, the biggest thing he wants, along with fellow guard Skylar Mays, is improvement in the rebounding department.
If Smart and Mays can each grab over five rebounds a game, Wade said it'll help the team immensely in what they want to do by pushing the ball up the court.
"We've got big guards and big guards rebound," Wade said. "I tell them all the time, the big dogs get off the porch and chase stuff, they don't sit around and bark. We need both of those guys to average five boards a game if we want to be successful. That's a big area I've been just on them about. We're going to need our five guys to defensive rebound and it's going to be holding on for dear life some nights."
For Days and Williams, those are the two guys Wade won't have to worry about on the glass. Days was one of the best offensive rebounders in the country a season ago when he was on the floor. The problem was he wasn't on the floor very much.
Days struggled with foul trouble in numerous games during his freshman season so the offseason has been about putting him in spots where he can still be aggressive on the glass but not getting into foul trouble.
"He's somebody that's worked extremely hard but he's got to stay on the floor," Wade said. "He's our best three-point shooter statistically speaking, he shot 42% from three. That's what I mean when I talk about changing our defensive schemes. We have to make sure we have the right guys guarding the right guys and keeping the matchups pretty even."
Williams has completely refined his jumpshot over the offseason, so much so that Wade and the coaching staff are comfortable with him taking top-of-the-key three pointers and mid-range jumpers.
"Emmitt has expanded his range, he can make shots now," Wade said. "I think you'll still see the junkyard dog, tough guy that's out there pounding the glass and doing a lot of the dirty work because at his core that's who he is and that's what makes him a great player."
Taylor is someone who has continued to grow with Wade saying he should shoot the ball at a higher clip than he did in his first season with the team.
"He's been a great athlete that plays basketball but I told him you've got to be a basketball player that's a great athlete," Wade said. "Just incorporating some thinking and understanding where to be on defense and not relying on your athleticism solely. That's something he's really improved on, he's taken an interest in the film room. There's going to be a lot of things he does that are going to be better than he did last year but people won't notice because they're smaller, more nuanced things."
The first taste to see LSU in action won't come until Nov. 8, when the Tigers host Bowling Green at 7 p.m. in the first regular-season game of the 2019 campaign.