LSU coach Johnny Jones has been remolding the basketball program with high-profile recruits since he succeeded Trent Johnson for the 2012-13 season, and on Tuesday he announced more changes: three players, including point guard Anthony Hickey, are no longer with the basketball program. Reserves Shane Hammink and Malik Morgan are the other two players out for the Tigers.
Hickey is the most notable name of the bunch by a significant margin. The 5'11 point guard averaged over 30 minutes per game in each of his three seasons with the Tigers and turned himself into one of the best perimeter defenders in the SEC. Hickey finished third in the nation in steals per game in 2012-13 with 2.9 per game, but he consistently struggled to shoot. Hickey never shot above 39 percent from the field or 58 percent from the foul line in his three seasons with the Tigers. Losing his tenacious defense and senior leadership will hurt, but LSU still has plenty of talent next season.
It all starts in the frontcourt. The Tigers lost 6'9 junior center Johnny O'Bryant III to the NBA, but they're in a unique position to survive the departure of their leading scorer. O'Bryant III will be replaced by incoming freshman Elbert Robinson, who ESPN has rated as a four-star recruit and the No. 6 center in the class. Robinson, a Texas native, is 6'11, 270 pounds and is purported to have a soft touch around the rim. He'll join an LSU front line that includes two big-time sophomores: Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey.
Martin and Mickey were both top-100 recruits a year ago, and each impressed as a freshman. Martin is a bruiser at 6'9, 241 pounds. The No. 11-rated recruit in the class of 2013, Martin averaged 10.3 points per game and 4.6 rebounds last season, and projects as one of the focal points of LSU's offense next season. Mickey might be an even better two-way prospect. He averaged 12.7 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 blocks as a freshman. At 6'8, 220 pounds, a frontcourt of Martin, Mickey and Robinson will be as big as any in the country.
What do the Tigers look like in the backcourt and who replaces Hickey? Junior college guard Josh Gray, UNC Asheville transfer Keith Hornsby and incoming freshman Jalyn Patterson will give Jones plenty of options. If he can find a more consistent scoring threat next to sophomore Tim Quarterman, another former top-100 recruit entering his sophomore season, LSU could boast the most dynamic lineup it's had in years.
Since reaching the Final Four in 2006 behind Tyrus Thomas and Glen Davis, LSU has made the NCAA Tournament only once in the last eight seasons. The Tigers have improved their record incrementally in the first two years under Jones. If they can figure out the backcourt, the Tigers are poised to take a leap in the SEC next season.