LSU is now just a day away from its opening games of the 2020-21 season but a change in venue has them facing a few different opponents. Initially scheduled to play in Lincoln, Nebraska, the Tigers have pulled out of that tournament and instead will head to Saint Louis where it will take on Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Saint Louis in a four day window.
LSU will take on SIUE on Thanksgiving Day at 6 p.m. and follow that up with a Saturday game against Saint Louis at 2 p.m. The Tigers also recently announced a home game with Southeastern set to be played on Nov. 30 in the PMAC.
The Tigers reasoning for pulling out of Nebraska was described by a source as "COVID-19 related reasons." But regardless of the last minute location change, coach Will Wade says the Tigers are ready to get the season started after a month of practice.
"We're excited to get going, excited to have some games, our guys have done a great job with our preparation and we've been going at it since Oct. 14 in practice," Wade told reporters. "It's nice to kind of see a light at the end of the tunnel and have some games next week and get prepared to play."
On offense, LSU figures to be carried by freshman guard Cam Thomas, Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford and Darius Days. It's unknown yet what the starting lineup will look like but a Smart, Thomas, Days, Watford and Bryan Penn-Johnson at center could be an option.
A combination of strong leadership, depth and hungry newcomers has Wade confident in this team and believes that the change to a matchup zone on defense has been a remarkable transition for the Tigers.
"We feel good about them and I like our versatility, I like the way we shoot the ball. We shoot the ball extremely well, we share the ball on offense. Our turnovers are way down in practice, I'm hopeful about that," Wade said. "Our defense is improving so I think we add all that together and we have a good-looking squad. As of today, we've got 10 guys that we can put in the game and I feel very, very good about them."
The Tigers lie just outside of the AP top-25 to start the season and were picked to finish No. 3 in the SEC by the coaches earlier this offseason. In the past two seasons, LSU's projections didn't come close to what they actually finished which was No. 1 in 2018-19 and No. 2 this past season.
That's why Wade doesn't put much stock in the preseason rankings.
"Every year we've outperformed our ranking and we don't plan on stopping that trend. So they may have picked us third and that sort of thing but we plan on finishing higher than third," Wade said. "We're a very, very confident group and we feel good about our team if we play to our capabilities."
From a health perspective, Wade said the Tigers are just about at full strength heading into the season opener. Guard Charles Manning, who broke the same bone on each of his feet last season is cleared and feeling great.
The only player who will be missing from the first handful of games is forward Josh Leblanc, whose NCAA waiver was denied. Leblanc will have to wait until after the new semester starts which will only be until the Tigers take on South Florida in mid December.
For players like Smart and Watford, not only was it prudent to come back because of the feedback they received from NBA scouts but also because it was important to run it back. Their season was cut short back in March and didn’t get to go on that tournament run that was earned with a 20-win season.
“I definitely feel like we have unfinished business - I never got a chance to play in the NCAA tournament,” Watford said. “That's been a dream of mine so I'm looking forward to it this year and I'm ready to get this thing started.