GAME NOTES: The LSU Tigers tip off their six-game home stand to start the 2012-13 season tonight, as they play host to the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.
For the 10th time in school history, the Gauchos won 20 games a season ago (12-4 Big West), and although they lost out on a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament, they were invited to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. UCSB has gone to the postseason three straight years and 15th-year head coach Bob Williams is now the program's all-time leader in wins with 237.
In a tough SEC, LSU was able to hold its own in 2011-12, going 18-15 and 7-9 in conference. The Tigers will be under new management, with Johnny Jones replacing Trent Johnson, who is now the head coach at TCU. Jones had put together six straight seasons of 18 or more wins during his tenure at North Texas.
Tonight's clash marks the first-ever meeting between these two non-conference foes. The last time the Gauchos played a team from the SEC they lost to Florida in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
UCSB fit right in with the high-scoring Big West Conference last season, scoring 73 ppg, but it will have difficulty duplicating that number without the conference's best scoring duo from that squad in Orlando Johnson (19.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.9 apg) and James Nunnally (16.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg). In addition to their top scorers, the Gauchos also lost a veteran forward in Jaime Serna (9.0 ppg, 5.0). Predicting who will carry the torch as the team's leading scorer is not easy, as only Kyle Boswell (7.5 ppg) and Alan Williams (6.9 ppg) failed to show any sort of explosive scoring potential in 2011-12. Williams assumed the role as the go-to guy in the team's exhibition game against La Verne this year, scoring 17 points on 6-of-9 field goal shooting. The all-new backcourt will feature Lewis Thomas, a sophomore from Australia who played just 6.6 minutes per game last season, and Dalante Dunklin, a six-foot freshman who shows great promise as a distributor and a defender (four assists, two steals in the exhibition). Michael Bryson (6-4, 201), another freshman, is also expected to see big minutes in his first season.
LSU will likely have a difficult time matching the success it had a season ago, as if getting used to a new coach isn't hard enough, but the team will also need to overcome the loss of two of its top three performers in Justin Hamilton (12.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Ralston Turner (9.1 ppg). Andre Stinger (10.1 ppg) returns for his junior campaign and is expected to take over as the primary scorer, but in order to fill that void he will have to improve upon his poor percentages from the floor (.349) and from three-point land (.317). Stringer will be joined in the starting lineup by familiar faces Anthony Hickey (8.9 ppg) and Johnny O'Bryant III (8.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg). After transferring from two different schools and battling injuries over the past couple of season, Charles Carmouche (6-4, 187) has cracked the starting lineup in his first season in Baton Rouge and dropped a team-high 19 points in an exhibition against Arkansas-Monticello earlier this week. The incoming freshmen class is a bit light, but Corban Collins (6-3, 192) could be in position for immediate playing time after being named a prep school All- American his senior season at Massanutten Military Academy (25 ppg, 7.0 apg, 6.0 rpg).
Don't be surprised if LSU comes out of the gates a little sluggish with a largely new roster and a fresh philosophy at head coach. UCSB should appear noticeably weaker this season as well, meaning the Tigers will likely prevail at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: LSU 66, UC Santa Barbara 60
11/09 10:33:47 ET
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