LSU enters 2006-07 with high expectations. Coach John Brady has been quick to temper them by pointing out that his team isn’t the same as last season’s.
The seventh-ranked Tigers look to build on their first Final Four appearance in 20 years as they open their season Friday at home against Nicholls State.
LSU went 27-9 in 2005-06 and won its ninth SEC regular season title and first outright since 1985. The Tigers went on to beat Iona, Texas A&M, Duke and Texas to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1986.
All of that success has put LSU, the last team in the SEC to open its season, in the spotlight.
“This year we’ve got a little preseason buzz going around, so the bar is a little bit higher, but we’re looking forward to the challenge,” said senior forward Darnell Lazare, who averaged 6.7 points and started 15 games last season “It’s going to be an exciting year. We’ve got a lot of guys coming back from last year so we’re looking forward to the season.”
Brady, however, doesn’t want his team thinking about what happened seventh months ago.
“If we don’t handle the success we created a year ago by not doing what is necessary to grow, improve and stay competitive, then certainly we will be disappointed,” he said. “I do feel that if this team handles that great success and does the things we need to do on daily basis to improve then this is a team that can accomplish something significant.”
Glen Davis returns after averaging 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds last season, becoming the first player in the conference to lead both categories since Shaquille O’Neal in 1991. The conference player of the year, nicknamed “Big Baby” in part because of his size and playful demeanor, decided to come back for his junior season instead of jumping to the NBA.
“I just wanted to be the best player I could be, just leave my mark on college basketball,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. Immortality, man. Everybody wants it.”
Driven in part by a 5-for-17 shooting performance in his team’s loss to UCLA in the national semifinals, the 6-foot-11 Davis lost weight during the offseason. He was about 310 pounds at the start of last season, and said he has trimmed down to 289.
“I was like, ‘You’re breathing hard. You’re even asking to come out of the game. What’s your problem? This is the Final Four,”’ Davis said. “It really bothered me.”
The Tigers, however, did lose forward Tyrus Thomas, who averaged 12.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game as a freshman last season and was selected with the fourth pick in the NBA draft. LSU will also have to make up for the departure of Darrel Mitchell, who ranked second on the team with 16.8 points per game.
“I think what people need to understand is that we are not the team that beat Duke and Texas to reach the Final Four,” Brady said. “We are not that team yet because of the players that we lost.
“If someone expects us to pick up right where we left off last season with the two prominent players we lost, you can’t do that. We are still trying to figure out who we are and trying to get a good substitution mix.”
LSU will get back guard Tack Minor, who played in only three games last season because of a knee injury, but averaged 10.8 points and 4.6 assists in 2004-05. Forward Tasmin Mitchell, who averaged 11.4 points as a freshman last season, also returns.
The Tigers’ first test will be weary Nicholls State, which has dropped its first four games. The Colonels lost 98-83 to Pepperdine on Tuesday night in their fourth contest in four days.
Adonis Gray scored 33 points, breaking the career high he set a night earlier, when he had 29 in a 102-74 loss to No. 17 Washington. He has scored at least 20 points in each of his last three games and is averaging 21.5 points this season.
Pepperdine hit 21 3-pointers over the Colonels’ zone defense, and the Huskies made 17 shots from beyond the arc.
“We are excited to play a team that is coming off an appearance in the Final Four,” said coach J.P. Piper, whose team visits No. 19 Texas on Tuesday. “It will be another great opportunity for us to see how we measure up against one of the best teams in the nation.”
LSU has won all 12 matchups with Nicholls State, beating the Colonels 104-57 last season.