Reasons for optimism at different levels as Division I hoops season starts Friday
Wherever you go, there are different levels of expectations. A fresh start. Improvement. Building off success.
Such is the story of Division I men’s college basketball in southeast Louisiana, which begins in earnest Friday night.
LSU is at home against Alcorn State, Tulane plays host to LIU-Brooklyn and Southeastern welcomes Centenary on opening night. Meanwhile, UNO travels to St. John’s and Nicholls plays at UT Rio Grande Valley on Friday.
The Tigers open a new era with Will Wade at the helm of the program. The excitement is building in Baton Rouge – not necessarily for what might be on the court this year, but for what is to come.
LSU won just two Southeastern Conference games last year, tied for fewest in the league, and the Tigers are again picked to finish last in the SEC. But Wade and his staff have assembled a star-studded recruiting class nationally that includes Louisiana’s best player, Scotlandville’s Ja’Vonte Smart.
The Tigers’ Class of 2018 is ranked third nationally by 247 Sports, trailing only North Carolina and Kansas.
For the immediate future, we’ll see the implementation of Wade’s system and enthusiasm – he turns 35 later this month.
Uptown, the second year of the Mike Dunleavy era at Tulane figures to be better than the first, with some key returnees like Cameron Reynolds and Melvin Frazier – the Green Wave’s top two scorers last year – and newcomers like UNLV transfer and former Brother Martin standout Jordan Cornish.
Tulane won just six games a year ago, but Dunleavy’s club has a good shot to top that total before it ever reaches American Athletic Conference play.
The Green Wave is picked 10th in a league that has gotten tougher in the offseason with the addition of perennial power Wichita State, a consensus preseason top 10 team nationally.
The one team who reached the NCAA Tournament in 2016-17 from Louisiana resides on the Lakefront – the University of New Orleans, which reached the “big dance” for the first time in 21 years last March.
Mark Slessinger returns a pair of starters from last year’s Southland Conference regular-season and tournament champions in Travin Thibodeaux and Makor Puou. The Privateers will have nine new players on the 2017-18 roster – five freshmen, three junior-college transfers and UL Lafayette transfer and former Country Day standout Scott Plaisance.
Among area Southland teams, Southeastern is picked third, UNO sixth and Nicholls 10th in the preseason conference poll, which was voted on by the league’s coaches and sports information directors.
Privateers fans can take solace in the fact that Slessinger’s club was picked ninth in the preseason – but went on to finish eight spots higher.
The openers for the Tigers (SEC Network +), Wave (ESPN3) and Privateers (Fox College Sports) are all available for viewing, either on TV or online.
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Lenny has been involved in college athletics since the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…