BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — LSU coach Matt McMahon was bound to have a bumpy start at LSU, given he was hired to replace a coach who'd been fired amid allegations of serious NCAA rules violations.
A ruling last June relieved McMahon and LSU of any lingering potential for punishment because of the alleged recruiting misdeeds of former coach Will Wade. There will be no postseason ban and no significant restrictions on recruiting. Rather, there will be three years' probation and the loss of only one scholarship this season and next.
There's still the matter of putting a team on the floor that can compete in the Southeastern Conference, though.
In McMahon's first season since being lured to the Bayou from Murray State, that didn't happen. After a promising 12-1 start with all but one victory coming against non-league opponents, LSU wound up 2-16 in SEC play for the 2022-23 campaign and finished with a 13-18 overall mark.
“It was a challenging year,” McMahon said. "It is great to have clarity on that NCAA situation. That’s all in the past. We’re able to now move the program forward.”
A roster that was overhauled in McMahon's first season has been transformed again.
Last year's top three scorers — forward K.J. Williams, guard Adam Miller and guard Cam Hayes — are gone. And there are eight new players, including six transfers, headlined by forward Daimion Collins from Kentucky and 7-footer Will Baker from Nevada.
“It was important for us to use the transfer portal in the spring to really bring some stability to our roster," McMahon said. "We were able to bring in guys who have proven they can play at a high level. All came from winning programs where they were really well-coached.”
LSU began this week still awaiting word on whether Tulane transfer Jalen Cook, a two-time transfer, would be eligible to play this season.
The New Orleans native began his career at LSU as a backup before transferring to Tulane, where he emerged as a two-time All-American Athletic Conference guard. He averaged 19.9 points and 4.9 assists last season.
Generally, college players can now play immediately after transferring once, but the NCAA has begun to crack down more on two-time transfers.
McMahon is hoping Cook, who has applied for a waiver to allow him to play right away, can start alongside former Vanderbilt guard Jordan Wright. But if the NCAA makes Cook sit out a season, Santa Clara transfer Carlos Stewart or returning LSU guard Trae Hannibal are likely candidates.
FRONT COURT REINFORCEMENTS
LSU has several returnees in the front court, including 6-10 senior Derek Fountain, 6-5 senior Mwani Wilkinson, 6-10 sophomore Jalen Reed and 6-6 Tyrell Ward. They'll all likely fall behind Collins and Baker on the depth chart, while 6-8 freshman Corey Chest will seek to prove he belongs in the rotation as well.
Baker averaged 13.6 points and 5.2 rebounds last season for a Nevada team that made it to the NCAA Tournament. The key for him is how well he meshes with McMahon's system and his new teammates.
Collins struggled to earn playing time with the Wildcats behind Oscar Tshiebwe despite being a former 5-star recruit. Time will tell if a fresh start helps him fulfill his promise.
"For Daimion, it’s about playing with great confidence,” McMahon said. “He learned a lot in his two years (at Kentucky). But you’re talking about someone just loaded with talent. He has really nice touch around the basket."
LSU's schedule isn't exactly packed with pushovers.
There are two games against teams that were among the last eight in the 2023 NCAA Tournament — at home against Kansas State (Dec. 9) and in Houston against No. 18 Texas (Dec. 16).
The Tigers visit Syracuse (Nov. 28) as part of the ACC/SEC Challenge and will face their share of teams in the preseason AP Top 25.
They're in the Charleston Classic (Nov. 16-19), in which they'll meet Dayton in the first round. Their second opponent could be St. John’s or North Texas and they could meet No. 7 Houston, Towson, Utah, or Wake Forest in their last game.
When they get into SEC play, the teams they'll face twice include No. 24 Alabama, No. 14 Arkansas and No. 15 Texas A&M.
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