It’s no secret that LSU’s biggest weaknesses last season came on defense, leaving many wondering if the improvement will come with the overhaul of the roster.
“I think the defense will be better, but I said that last year and quite frankly it was BS,” were the words of Head Coach Will Wade when asked about his team’s defense going into the first week of official practice.
During the 2020-2021 season, LSU gave up a very poor 75.8 points per game (PPG), ranking 286th in the country out of 353 teams. Most of this can be attributed to LSU’s abysmal performance on the defensive glass, giving up 12.7 rebounds per game (RPG), ranking an even worse 344th in the country. The excessive amount of offensive rebounds that LSU gave up last season led to opponents getting extra possessions and countless easy baskets. LSU only allowed opponents to shoot 41.9% from the field and 30% from three-point range, proving that the major pitfall of LSU defensively was on the glass.
Improving on the glass was an emphasis when rebuilding the roster for this year, and LSU comes into the 2021-2022 season much more equipped to compete on the glass. LSU returns its leading rebounder from last year in Darius Days, who will continue to play significant minutes and have an impact on the glass. LSU also signed three centers in this year’s recruiting class, highlighted by five-star prospect Efton Reid. Reid measures right around 7 feet tall which will give LSU an element that it lacked last season. Nobody who played significant minutes for LSU stood taller than 6 feet 9 inches which will always present problems when it comes to rebounding and defending the paint.
Despite leading the team in rebounding last season, Days only stood at 6 feet 7 inches presenting match-up problems when going against bigger teams. Reid, alongside Jerrell Colbert and Shareef O’Neal, is expected to help provide that bigger presence on the glass and in the paint that was missing last season.
The biggest question out of those three will be the play and availability of O’Neal. O’Neal struggled with injuries throughout last season, as a nagging foot injury kept him out for large portions of the season. When healthy, O’Neal’s length and athleticism have proved to be a big help on the glass for LSU, but with the season less than a month away, his health is still in question.
In terms of defending on the perimeter, LSU had success last season. Mwani Wilkinson and Eric Gaines are two returning players that made a big impact on defense and are expected to do the same this season with bigger roles. Gaines averaged an impressive 3.1 steals per 40 minutes last season, and his quickness on the defensive ends gave many guards a tough time attacking him one on one. Wilkinson was huge for LSU on defense last year with his versatility. At 6 foot 6 inches and just over 200 lbs, Wilkinson’s size and athleticism allowed him to guard almost any position on the floor.
Another issue that came with LSU’s lack of size and length last season, was poor interior defense and no real shot-blocking presence. Adding a player with Reid’s size and length will help with that, but LSU will also look towards Cincinnati transfer Tari Eason. Despite not being a consistent starter for Cincinnati, Eason still had a big impact on defense averaging 1.3 BPG, 1.2 SPG and 5.9 RPG. Standing at 6’8 and weighing 216 lbs, Eason’s size combined with his athleticism and motor made him a very efficient player on defense. Eason has the potential to be the kind of high-motor difference-maker on defense that LSU lacked last season.
With the new pieces, LSU adds to its roster for the 2021-2022 season, it will be interesting to see what kind of defensive system Wade implements. With more talented defensive players added to the lineup and rotation, it raises the possibility of seeing more man defense. LSU played a combination of man and zone last season and frequently implemented a 1-3-1 half-court trap to try to speed offenses up to and force them into turnovers. More of the same is likely to be seen this season, but Wade will have decisions to make with how the new personnel affects the defensive philosophy.
Whatever system Wade does go with, LSU is in a better position, personnel-wise, than it was in last season on defense. With more size and length being added to the roster, and already having good on-ball defenders, LSU is set up to be defensively sound this season.