With football season just three weeks into the schedule, it doesn’t feel like basketball is right around the corner. But here we are as LSU is just over a month away from tipping off the 2020 season.
On Tuesday, LSU coach Will Wade met with reporters to talk about the upcoming season, the change in schedule as well as the 2020 team and the fast chemistry that’s being built on and off the floor.
LSU To Make Significant Changes to its Defensive Scheme
Changes to the defense seems to be the trend this week that extends not only to the football field but to the court as well. It was something that Wade even acknowledged to reporters during his Tuesday press conference with the media.
After a 2019 season where the Tigers struggled on the defensive end of the floor because of guys playing out of position and a lack of depth, Wade feels the depth that's come with this 2020 roster will dramatically improve what LSU is trying to do on the defensive end.
"It's a pretty big philosophical change, it'll be very noticeable when you watch us play what we're doing," Wade said. "We're a little bit more aggressive in some areas, a little bit smarter in other areas. I think our guys have done a good job of executing what we need to do.
"We're really gonna pack that paint and force you to take contested jump shots. We just got a little bit sturdier philosophy."
Wade didn't get into specifics of how the defense will change but did drop a few nuggets throughout the interview to give some indication. For starters, the players seem to be buying in completely with the change as Wade says they've been able to integrate the base of the new philosophy in just a couple of weeks. Now it's about adding the little details to how they want to operate defensively.
LSU figures to be a lot bigger and stronger on the interior with the addition of Bryan Penn-Johnson, an area that was missing last year when the Tigers' tallest defender ran 6-foot-7. The other part of having a good defense is having defensive minded players.
Senior Charles Manning certainly bought into that side of the ball in 2019 and figures to be one of the top perimeter defenders on the team this year. But the addition of Josh Leblanc, Mwani Wilkinson, Shareef O'Neal and Jalen Cook have Wade practically giddy with excitement over the on-ball defense.
"Wait until you see Mwani Wilkinson and Jalen Cook defend," Wade said. "Those are two very, very good defenders. Jalen Cook might be the best on-ball defender I've seen since I was at VCU and we had Briante Webber, who's the second all-time NCAA steals leader. Cook is as good as I've seen at hounding the ball and guarding the ball.
"If we played today, I got nine guys I feel like we can put in an SEC game today and I'd be pretty comfortable with them. We've got a roster of 13 guys that can all play and it makes practice competitive."
Updates on Non-Conference Schedule
The non-conference schedule isn't finalized yet but it's getting there Wade said. Wade actually suggested getting the schedule finalized would make for an interesting reality show because of how much has changed.
LSU will go to a bubble in Lincoln, Nebraska to start the season, where the Tigers will play three non-conference games before coming back to Baton Rouge for their first home opener against Louisiana Tech. Then it's off to Atlanta, where LSU will play a few more non-conference games before coming back to Baton Rouge for a few home games before Christmas.
Wade said that the schedule is tough but very beneficial for the purple and gold because if they handle it like he thinks, the Tigers should be well set come tournament time.
"We're in the process, we're coming down the homestretch of the schedule," Wade said. "We have a good handle on it, we're just getting the paperwork and everything together. It will be as challenging a non-conference schedule we've played since we've been here. We'll probably only have one Quadrant 4 team on the entire schedule and 18 or 19 Quadrant 1 and 2 opportunities out of our schedule which is just tremendous."
Tidbits Around the Roster
One of the questions coming into this season revolves around the three transfers and if LSU will be able to have Shareef O'Neal, Penn-Johnson and Josh Leblanc available. Wade gave some updates as Penn-Johnson's waiver has been approved and O'Neal's has been sent to the NCAA for review.
"We'll see where everything goes," Wade said. "Shareef is shooting it well, he's a very good offensive rebounder and we're pressing a little bit more. He's the best guy we've got right now on the ball in the press. He gets deflections, he's long, he's athletic and really good on the ball."
The team is still compiling information for Leblanc's waiver but even if his isn't approved, he'd only miss a few games because he was with the team pretty much all of last season.
The chemistry is another area, because of the unknowns that have come with this season, just how quickly that came together was something Wade was a little concerned with when he last spoke to the media in July.
"This is the closest knit team we've had," Wade said. "We've got a lot of good people, they enjoy being around each other, they enjoy working and it's a blue collar group which is more my type of crew. These guys are working all day and I like the way our team is. We've got some depth so it's going to be about quality and not necessarily quantity. You've gotta give us quality minutes, quality shots and not have missed assignments."