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September 8, 2008
At SEC Media Days last season, Tasmin Mitchell told Rivals.com the one LSU newcomer who would have the biggest impact was Marcus Thornton. "He'll shock a lot of guys," Mitchell said. "He'll open up a lot of guys' zones. He's a great player." Mitchell may have a future as a scout if the whole playing thing doesn't work out. Thornton, a former junior college All-American, made the transition to the Division I ranks look a little too easy. He finished second in the SEC in scoring, third in free-throw percentage, fifth in 3-pointers made per game and seventh in 3-point field-goal percentage. When Mitchell went down with an injury just three games into last season, Thornton picked up the scoring slack and then some.
When healthy, Tasmin Mitchell can be a difference maker for LSU.
For the Tigers to click on all cylinders, each of the guards could stand a little better shot selection. LSU finished last in the SEC in field-goal percentage and 3-point field-goal percentage.
Center Chris Johnson missed six games in January, including the first five SEC games, with a broken right hand. The Tigers lost all six games. Johnson didn't start in his first two games after returning to the lineup. He did start the final 10 games, though, and averaged 12.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.6 blocks as LSU closed 5-5. Johnson was dominant at times, running the floor and defending the basket as well as any big man in the league. Trent Johnson, who coached the Lopez twins at Stanford, already has seen enough of Chris Johnson to believe he is coaching another big-time talent in the post.
Chris Johnson should get help up front from a healthy Mitchell. As a sophomore in 2006-07, Mitchell started every game for the Tigers and averaged 14.7 points and 6.0 rebounds. He shot 46.6 percent, including 37.6 percent from 3-point range. Mitchell is rangy and quick, and he can finish at the rim. The loss of first-round pick Anthony Randolph after his freshman season is a blow, but it's softened greatly by the return of Mitchell, who received a medical redshirt and has two years of eligibility.
Depth in the frontcourt is thin pending the development of some freshmen. The Tigers signed three three-star power forwards, including Rivals150 members Delwan Graham and Storm Warren. Both are undersized, but the Tigers have plenty of height with the 6-11 Johnson, the 6-7 Mitchell and two 6-6 guards.
Trent Johnson doesn't want to slow things down, per se, but you can bet he'll bring more structure to the offense. If the Tigers can defend and rebound, they will score some in transition. But the new coach won't mind running halfcourt sets either, which will be a major change for his players. But they'll play inside out, with Chris Johnson in the post and Thornton spotting up on the perimeter.
SHOES TO FILL
Randolph. Randolph, a former five-star prospect, lived up to the hype by averaging 15.6 points and 8.5 rebounds. His athleticism for a player his size is a rarity, but LSU should be able to compensate for his production.
MUST STEP UP
Mitchell. This was supposed to be his team last season. If he comes back healthy and better than he was two years ago, the Tigers have major sleeper potential.
G Chris Bass. The younger brother of former Tigers frontcourt star Brandon Bass, Chris Bass is a 6-1 point guard with a nice feel for the game. LSU needs someone to step up at the point guard, so there will be minutes to be had.
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.