LSU basketball enters a critical offseason. The Tigers are expecting to lose its core four players in Cam Thomas, Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford and Darius Days to the NBA, leaving plenty of uncertainty around the roster as a whole. 

Development from the young returning players on the roster, particularly Eric Gaines, Mwani Wilkinson and Jalen Cook will be a must. Incoming freshmen like forward Alex Fudge and centers Jerrell Colbert and Bradley Ezewiro will be asked to carry large roles as well as veteran transfers Shareef O'Neal and Josh Leblanc.

If all goes to plan, Will Wade and company will also be heavily involved in the transfer market, hoping to add as many as three players in 

"We're certainly going to lose some very, very good players. We've got some talented young kids in the program that we feel really good about," Wade said after the NCAA tournament loss to Michigan. 

"We're going to try to mix in some veteran guys here in the spring, have two or three scholarships to mess around with and get some talented veteran guys to join our young core that's really, really good. We've got to keep the young core together, keep those guys together, get those guys in the gym, get back to work, add a couple veteran pieces. I think we can be right back where we are tonight."

The consistency has been building with this program and this week the Tigers landed at No. 23 in Sports Illustrated's "Way too Early" top 25 rankings.

Draft decisions will be critical for the Tigers and will dictate whether this is a top-15 team in the preseason or an unranked one. This ranking’s methodology pencils in high-scoring guard Cameron Thomas and versatile forward Trendon Watford as pro departures, with PG Javonte Smart and skilled big Darius Days returning to school. If at least two of that “core four” returns, LSU will be in good shape—especially with the emergence of young wings like Alex Fudge and Mwani Wilkinson.

It's important to note that the ranking is prefaced with the projection that Smart and Days return to the program, two scenarios that appear unlikely to happen. With so much lost from last season, it's hard to imagine this team being a preseason top 25 in many projections, expecially since the program wasn't ranked for much of the season with all of those veterans on the team.

When this roster becomes a little more clear over the coming months in regards to transfers, a clearer picture can be had. 

This article first appeared on FanNation LSU Country and was syndicated with permission.

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