BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU basketball team opens its 2017-18 schedule Friday night, and as of Wednesday, new coach Will Wade hadn’t even decided on a starting lineup.
This much we know: Sophomore guard Skylar Mays, freshman guard Tremont Waters and senior forward Duop Reath will start. That’s two point guards and a center. But who fits in between? That’s still up in the air.
The expectation is that senior forward Aaron Epps will join Mays, Waters and Reath in the starting lineup when he gets healthy, but the big man isn’t expected to be ready to go Friday as he continues nursing a foot injury that’s kept him out for a few weeks. Without Epps, LSU has a bit of hole at power forward. Earlier in the week, Wade said he thought he had the spot filled, but it became evident Tuesday and Wednesday that that wasn’t the case.
“We had a bad practice [Tuesday]. Four man is back open,” Wade said. “I thought we had the 4 settled. I love ol’ [Wayde] Sims, but when Sims gets comfortable it just gets bad. We need Epps back so we’ve got somebody to push Sims. Four spot is open.
“We might start [Jeremy] Combs there at the 4 or the 5 and play a little bigger. We may start [Brandon] Rachal and play a little smaller. Heck, we might start Sims still. I don’t know. We’re going to try it all out today.”
The three leading candidates to start at the 4 showcase just how versatile that position needs to be in Wade’s scheme. Wade is willing to replace Epps, a 6-foot-10 sharpshooter who is capable of ranging out to the perimeter, with the 6-6 Sims, 6-7 Combs or 6-5 Rachal. Despite their differences in height, all four of those players are listed within four pounds of one another.
Combs is the most experienced and burliest option. The graduate transfer from North Texas has 76 collegiate games under his belt. He averaged 12 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, albeit against a slightly lower class of competition. As a freshman last season, Sims started five games and played in 31 for LSU, averaging 6.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game while shooting 41 percent from 3-point range. Rachal is a freshman from Natchitoches who averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds per game as a high school senior.
Wade wasn’t as specific with his plan for who will start at 3 guard, but one has to expect Rachal will figure into that battle along with junior Brandon Sampson. Depending on the alignment, transfers Daryl Edwards and Randy Onwuasor could also factor into this spot.
One of the few veterans on this team, Sampson was expected to be a fixture in LSU’s starting lineup this season before he seemingly fell out of Wade’s favor during camp. The junior averaged 11.6 points on 47.5 percent shooting in 2016-17, making him LSU’s third-leading scorer behind current Chicago Bulls (G League) guard Antonio Blakeney and Reath. There are questions about Sampson’s defensive ability, which likely is keeping him out of the guaranteed starting lineup.
Edwards and Onwuasor would make for a much smaller starting lineup than the 6-5 Sampson. But Edwards, a junior college transfer, and Onwuasor, a graduate transfer from Southern Utah, could add some extra experience to a backcourt starting a freshman in Waters and a sophomore in Mays.
The LSU basketball team opens its season at 7 p.m. Friday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. For info on how to watch or stream the game, click here.