May 11, 2023
How transfer Aneesah Morrow will impact LSU
Infusion of talent makes Tigers tougher in 2023-24
For LSU, who ranks No. 1 on the transfer list between Aneesah Morrow and Hailey Van Lith doesn’t matter. Because they got both.
On Friday, the former DePaul Blue Demon announced that she was committing to the reigning champions in Baton Rouge. Morrow previously announced her top three as Southern California, LSU, and South Carolina. She was set to visit South Carolina the weekend she announced her LSU commitment but skipped the scheduled visit.
“The atmosphere on my official visit was electric, and the fan base is incredibly passionate about their team. I was drawn to this kind of environment because I’ve always dreamed about playing for a university that had that,” Morrow said. “Furthermore, the opportunity to play in the SEC against some of the nation’s best teams.”
With Angel Reese’s arrival last year, head coach Kim Mulkey and her staff have brought in the top transfer or transfers in the nation back-to-back years, and they also have a national championship in tow. So where do they go from here?
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An all-star starting five
On paper, LSU’s potential starting five is one for the ages. Newbie forward Morrow averaged 25.7 points and 12.2 rebounds per game last season in the Big East, and Van Lith is a seasoned guard who averaged 19.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in the ACC.
Returners Reese and Flau’jae Johnson both know the system, respectively an All-American forward and the other a promising young guard who started on a championship team and won SEC Freshman of the Year.
The final spot is up in the air but will likely go to incoming freshman MiKaylah Williams: the second-best recruit in the nation and a lethal scorer. Mulkey could tinker with the lineup, and Kateri Poole is another option at shooting guard to round out the starting five.
At that rate, LSU has Van Lith running the point, Morrow and Reese inside, Johnson shifting to the wing, and Williams at the two. It’s intimidating just to read. But a team is not who they are on paper.
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The potential for problems
Although undeniably talented and likely to add plenty to the team, questions arise about Morrow’s role. After point guard Alexis Morris graduated, Van Lith seemed like an obvious choice, but is Morrow’s position as clear?
To begin, Reese and Morrow’s skillsets are very similar. Even the two forward’s stat lines mirror each other: Reese averaged 23.0 points and 15.4 rebounds per game; Morrow averaged 25.7 and 12.2. On deeper dive, Reese averaged 9.0 defensive rebounds and Morrow 8.7 rebounds. Reese outrebounded Morrow offensively, but they bring a very similar profile of a high-scoring and high-rebounding forward in the paint.
This is far from terminal, but will take adjustment. Reese is used to playing alongside LaDazhia Williams, who was less productive, but also used fewer possessions than Morrow (16 percent usage rate for Williams, 37.6 for Morrow). Additionally, Reese’s partner in the paint will go from 6’4 to 6’1.
That being said, Morrow is an undeniable upgrade over Williams, but it could also mean fewer double-double performances from Reese. Last season, if Reese wasn’t playing well, few options arose. In the South Carolina game, LSU’s only regular season loss, Reese shot just 5-for-15 in what turned into an 88-64 Gamecocks win. But with Morrow, Reese won’t have to put up blockbuster performances every single game.
And like every team, the influx of new teammates could threaten the careful locker room balance. Last season, Mulkey often emphasized how many “big personalities” she had on her team and how she reveled in balancing them all. But with new stars hitting the court and the potential for playing time and stats to move, the need for Peacemaker Mulkey may be all the more necessary.
Last, what LSU means for Morrow’s future remains a question. Mulkey has been criticized for her college-first style that prepares players less for the pros, something Mulkey’s most recent point guard Morris even pointed out in Connecticut Sun training camp. And with an ever-competitive WNBA draft that will only surge in upcoming years, Morrow’s development may look different than if she committed to South Carolina or other schools.
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Nothing is guaranteed
On paper, this team should win another championship. But on paper, they wouldn’t have won last year.
And Mulkey said it herself. Before the tournament, she urged her fanbase not to expect a Final Four run, and as they climbed the March Madness ranks, LSU reminded the world of how this was “not normal.”
Repeating is hard. A seemingly-bulletproof South Carolina couldn’t do it last year, and no women’s basketball team has done it since 2016. So, although hoisting that trophy in the Bayou is always the goal, LSU will have an uphill battle to get there.
Although there are no guarantees, the high-level competition around LSU is a near-lock. As Morrow cited, the SEC historically brings the competition, and Morrow and Van Lith are just two in a sea of talent flocking down South this portal season, making the SEC even more seasoned and ever-competitive than usual.
Written by Gabriella Lewis
Gabriella is The Next's Atlanta Dream and SEC beat reporter. She is a Bay Area native currently studying at Emory University.
Flau’jae Johnson at Wing..That will be interesting !