Van Chancellor took over one of the most experienced teams in the country a little over a year ago when he came back to college coaching at LSU. He walked into a situation with five senior starters in a program that had been to four consecutive Final Fours and had a superstar center in Sylvia Fowles.
However … Chancellor also knew that for his second year, he’d be coaching a completely different team.
We can all get a look at just how different on Sunday (1:30 p.m. Central time) when LSU is host to Notre Dame in the opener of the annual State Farm Tipoff Classic. Pitt faces Texas A&M in the second game; both contests will be televised on ESPN2.
Now, I have to be honest … when I heard during the summer that these were the four teams involved in the Tipoff Classic, my reaction was kind of like what Lucy did when she took that first spoonful of Vitameatavegamin on “I Love Lucy.”
The matchups just didn’t sound very appealing. The Tipoff Classic generally has been a showcase for teams that were expected to be really on the rise that very season. This seemed like it would have been a more marquee foursome last year – not now, the season after each of these teams lost at least two starters.
That doesn’t mean I expected these teams to be “bad” or anything like that. It just seemed, from a practical point of view, that none might be able to equal or exceed what they did last year in the NCAA Tournament – when LSU went to the Final Four, Texas A&M to the Elite Eight, and Notre Dame and Pitt to the Sweet 16.
Now, going into the event, I have warmed to it some. But it still seems like the wrong time to focus on LSU. It’s been a great program, and will continue to be. There’s no doubt that Chancellor and associate head coach Bob Starkey will have this group playing well soon. But it’s just a lot to ask for such a young LSU team to be ready for a spotlight like this to open the season, especially against a Notre Dame team that should be more advanced despite losing its best player, Charel Allen.
“There is no question, you are going to need a game program to know our players,” Chancellor said earlier this week on a conference call. “Allison Hightower will be our go-to player. Who we have after that, I don’t have any earthly idea. It’s going to be an adventure.”
Of course, you may guess there’s a little hyperbole here from Chancellor … odds are he has had an earthly idea or two about who might be helping Hightower carry on the LSU tradition. But maybe only a little hyperbole.
I don’t think Chancellor is playing possum; even a old sage like him can’t know for sure how this group is going to react Sunday. Or exactly how much the team will develop, and how soon.
Still, he did say he believed it was going to be a pretty talented team near the end of the season, no matter how Sunday’s game goes.
And if these two contests turn out to be very good, I’ll be glad to have been wrong in my first reaction.