No Cameron Thomas. No Trendon Watford. No Javonte Smart. Do the math, and LSU will be without its top three scorers from last season, who accounted for 55.3 points a game and led the Tigers to a third-place finish in the SEC, a heartbreaking one-point loss to Alabama in the SEC Tournament championship game and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
How will we recognize the Tigers this season? "You're gonna need a program for the first game, for sure," coach Will Wade said during a "Build Up 2 Basketball" appearance on SEC This Morning.
Wade has established LSU as a consistent contender in his four years with the Tigers. They finished in the top three in the SEC in each of the last three seasons, with a conference championship in 2018-19. Their 39 regular-season conference victories in that span also led the league.
Despite the roster churn at the top, there will be some carryover from those winning ways, primarily in the person of Darius Days. The 6-foot-7, 245-pound senior who paced the Tigers in rebounding last season at 7.8 boards a game contemplated turning pro. Instead he'll be LSU's leading returning scorer at 11.6 points a game and its most proven veteran presence.
A select panel of national and SEC media named Days to the preseason All-SEC second team. Wade called him "an SEC player of the year candidate the way he's improved his game." A good omen: Days has increased his scoring and rebounding averages each season in Baton Rouge. LSU was 19-1 last season when he scored in double figures.
"Getting Darius Days back was huge," Wade said. "He's a four-year senior. He's been with us all four years, all four seasons. He's been very, very steady. He's going to have his best year."
While Days steps up into a featured role, Wade is anxious to see a combination of returning players who'll have a chance to make the most of new opportunities and newcomers who'll be called upon to make an immediate impact.
The most familiar name among the fresh faces is Xavier Pinson. After three seasons at Missouri, the 6-2 senior arrived to take over the point guard position Smart handled so well. Pinson was the second-leading scorer and assist man last season on a Missouri team that handed league champ Alabama its first SEC loss, beat two other top-10 teams and reached the NCAA Tournament.
Landing Pinson "was huge," Wade said. "We knew when we lost Javonte (Smart) that we needed to get somebody that was a pretty sure bet to be a very, very good player for us. Pinson was the surest bet we could find."
Another transfer stepped up in LSU's charity exhibition win Oct. 23 over Nicholls State, a game played to raise funds for Hurricane Ida victims in Louisiana. With five regulars sitting out, 6-8 Cincinnati transfer Tari Eason led the Tigers with 22 points and 15 rebounds.
Eason and 6-11, 238-pound freshman Efton Reid, ranked No. 20 in the Class of 2021 ESPN 100, the fifth five-star recruit signed by Wade at LSU, should help create an imposing inside presence.
"We wanted to supplement the guys we got back," Wade said. "We've got some really, really good pieces, and we're going to need some of these guys to step up with the opportunity that they're given."