Last season, LSU fell short of its goal of winning a national title, losing to Baylor in the Final Four. This season, the goal is the same, but the path will be even tougher.
LSU lost three starters, including Temeka Johnson, who won the Nancy Lieberman Award as the best point guard in the country and then went on to win the WNBA's Rookie of the Year honors. Johnson's absence cannot be underestimated, even with the return of the national player of the year Seimone Augustus. Without Johnson, who was a great leader, Augustus will have to find her own shot a little more often.
As practices officially got underway, exactly who would replace Johnson remained a mystery. Erica White will get the first crack, but because Johnson was always on the floor (she averaged 31.3 minutes and started all 36 games), White didn't get much experience running the team -- she averaged 6.5 minutes last season -- and coaches expect that LSU could struggle early on until White gets caught up with the rest of the team, which starts out at No. 6 in ESPN.com's preseason rankings.
In addition to White, RaShonta LeBlanc and Khalilah Mitchell also will compete for the role and each will see playing time.
Though three starters are gone, the good news is that Sylvia Fowles will move into the starting lineup. Fowles, the SEC's reigning Sixth Woman of the Year, is one of the best low-post threats in the country and forms one of the best inside-outside tandems in the nation with Augustus.
Sophomore guard Quianna Chaney is expected to be the third scoring option. She had a very solid freshman season and will be the instant offense off the bench in 2005-06.
Depth on the interior, however, could be a problem because there isn't much behind Fowles on the bench. This could be the Achilles heel for the Lady Tigers.
Still, this is a very young but talented team with seven sophomores. Those young players will get experience in a hurry with what coach Pokey Chatman calls "by far the toughest schedule in the history of LSU women's basketball."
Peter Newmann is the college basketball researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.