Expectations for LSU women's basketball in year 2 under Kim Mulkey: Deep NCAA tournament run?
BATON ROUGE – Molding a team with more new faces, new mentalities, new personal goals than not is much harder returning the bulk of your team.
That's the major challenge for Kim Mulkey entering her second season at No. 16 LSU, which she's guided to a preseason AP poll ranking for the first time since 2013. She and her staff, which contains two new assistants in LSU basketball legendary assistant coach Bob Starkey and young Gary Redus, brought in nine new players this offseason.
With the addition of transfers Angel Reese (Maryland), LaDazhia Williams (Missouri) and Jasmine Carson (West Virginia) along with incoming freshmen Flau'jae Johnson and Sa'Myah Smith, Mulkey has stockpiled far more talent than she had this time last year.
This preseason, containing two exhibition contests LSU won handily, was used as a role-defining tool as all the new assets had to find their lane.
Coming off a 26-win season (the most it's had in 14 years) in Mulkey's first season and ushering in the new crop of talent, what are the realistic expectations for LSU in 2022-23?
LSU WBB WRAPS UP PRESEASONObservations from LSU women's basketball's win over Langston in final preseason exhibition
LSU STARTING LINEUP PROJECTIONSProjecting LSU women's basketball starting lineup, rotation
Reese is but one piece to the puzzle, but the significance of her choosing LSU after she transferred out of Maryland can't be overstated.
The 6-foot-3 forward was an All-American for the Terrapins last season and had one of the better games an opposing player had all of last year against eventual national champion South Carolina in Columbia. With next to zero experience at the post following last year, the Tigers made Reese their top priority and they got her.
LSU's top returning player is senior guard Alexis Morris, giving the team two preseason National Player of the Year candidates. She averaged 15 points last season but will need to be the floor general for the first time in her career following the departure of Khayla Pointer.
The pair of Morris and Reese gives the Tigers enough of a viable one-two punch to guide this team to a high ceiling.
But LSU will play a very weak nonconference schedule, which will not adequately prepare it for the rigors of Southeastern Conference play once it starts at the end of December. The Tigers' toughest game is the final nonconference date against Oregon State (picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12) as part of the Maui Classic on Dec. 18.
LSU's collection of new talent plus Morris easily sets it up as the third-best team as of now in the SEC and it should expect to finish there behind the Gamecocks and Tennessee. The Tigers aren't on the level of either of those squads yet in Mulkey's rebuild.
And Mulkey herself has said this season shouldn't be judged on the wins and losses, where LSU finishes in the league or how deep it may advance in the NCAA Tournament. But after a wildly unexpected successful first season, what many believe LSU can do in 2022-23 has been modified – right or wrong.
Realistically, it's going to take a few games for the Tigers to jell. Reese didn't play with her teammates during the exhibitions, so time and play will be necessary to find the right cohesion.
A few freshmen will be counted upon in key roles. Johnson is likely to start, as well as Smith and Alisha Williams in the post because there just isn't enough experience there, and playing against the tougher competition in the SEC is where LSU could be exposed the most in the paint.
Despite that, LSU is primed for a semifinal SEC Tournament run, likely be a top-12 team and No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where a Sweet 16 run will be expected as Mulkey is a bit ahead of schedule in her rebuild in Baton Rouge.
Cory Diaz covers the LSU Tigers and Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns for The Daily Advertiser as part of the USA TODAY Network. Follow his Tigers and Cajuns coverage on Twitter: @ByCoryDiaz. Got questions regarding LSU/UL athletics? Send them to Cory Diaz at email@example.com.