It’s been a long week and I’m just ready to crash on the couch and watch March Madness, but there are some items I’m obligated to put out into cyberspace since this site appears to be the only place in the “media” offering a fan-friendly point of view on the continuing debacle that is the Will Wade-LSU mess.
So here goes.
Nobody Should Look The Win Over Yale In The Mouth
A five-point win over a 14-seed Ivy League team doesn’t exactly stand out as a signature moment in LSU’s basketball history, but let’s take it and not complain. Yale has a nice team with talent above what you’d normally expect out of an Ivy League club, and they gave a game effort. LSU jumped out to a 16-point halftime lead which decided the game’s outcome, and though they gave too much of that lead away with something of their typical second-half lull, the Tigers did what they had to do to win the game.
And in the NCAA Tournament, that’s all that matters. Survive and advance.
I said on Facebook after the game that the Yale effort would get LSU beat against either Maryland or Belmont in the second round, and then I watched Maryland and Belmont play – Maryland had a lot more trouble with Belmont than LSU had with Yale, and if you match LSU’s effort Thursday against Maryland’s, LSU probably survives and advances. That might be true if you make the same comparison with Michigan State, who had all they could handle from 15-seeded Bradley on Thursday.
Kudos To Tony Benford On His First NCAA Tournament Win
Benford hasn’t particularly lit the world on fire since he was named interim head coach following Will Wade’s suspension, but to be fair to Benford LSU has played pretty much the same type of game in the three contests Benford has coached that they were playing before Wade’s suspension – the Tigers will have stretches of play in which they can legitimately be considered as one of the best teams in all of college ball and they could literally beat anybody else in the country, and then they’ll have lulls where they give away leads or let an opponent build one on them.
Wade showed a knack for being able to get LSU to recover toward the end of games to salt them away, something the SEC Tournament loss to Florida might indicate Benford doesn’t have. But LSU certainly held its nerve against Yale, and while that’s what they were supposed to do against a #14 seed let’s also remember only Kavell Bigby-Williams on this roster had ever played in an NCAA Tournament game and LSU hadn’t actually won one in 10 years. So while the opponent might not have been all that fearsome the moment certainly was, and LSU came through. That’s a tribute to Benford.
And as for those lulls LSU goes through, which were a feature during Wade’s time on the bench this year as well, are pretty explainable. This is a really young and inexperienced team, even by college basketball standards.
Look, the only senior LSU has is Bigby-Williams, and he’s in his first year playing for LSU. Bigby-Williams sat out last year after transferring from Oregon. LSU has a veteran junior in Skylar Mays, who is the only “program player” the Tigers have, and another junior in Marlon Taylor, who’s a JC transfer in his first year as a Tiger. Tremont Waters is a sophomore who with Mays is the only returning player from last year, and then Naz Reid, Javonte Smart, Emmitt Williams and Darius Days are freshmen. A team with that little time playing together can’t be expected to play its “A” game 40 minutes at a time; it doesn’t work that way. That LSU keeps it together long enough to have won 27 games against a pretty tough schedule is a tribute to the coaching and chemistry they have. The last time an LSU team won 27 games it was Trent Johnson’s first club, made up of holdovers from the John Brady era – five of whom (Marcus Thornton, Quinton Thornton, Garrett Temple, Chris Johnson and Terry Porter) were seniors, plus Tasmin Mitchell was a redshirt junior.
Let’s hope Benford can guide the team past Maryland on Saturday and into the Sweet 16. If Benford can do that, he should have a nice offseason – some smaller school is going to see his stewardship of LSU in a difficult situation and give him an opportunity to resume as a head coach. We’d be very happy for him should that happen.
And no, Benford isn’t getting the LSU job on a permanent basis. He isn’t Ed Orgeron. If for nothing else, let’s remember that Orgeron’s hiring as LSU’s permanent coach to replace Les Miles came at the end of a protracted political campaign he waged for the job, and that campaign bore fruit only after negotiations with Tom Herman hit snags Joe Alleva couldn’t or wouldn’t navigate. None of those elements are in place for Benford, and we’re told by a source within the athletic department that in the event LSU would be hiring a coach they would be thinking much bigger.
Would You Please Shut The *** Up, Joe?
By now I shouldn’t be amazed at the stupidity which emanates forth from the mouths of the people in charge at LSU, but I can’t help it. For some reason I keep expecting bare mediocrity out of these people despite the fact they’ve clearly showed it to be beyond them.
Which brings us to what happened yesterday. No sooner had LSU knocked off Yale than a reporter for a national sports site got Joe Alleva talking about Wade…
“I don’t know how deep this goes,” Alleva told Stadium after the win. “That’s the problem, and Will’s refused to talk to us. That’s the hardest part for me.”
Two weeks ago, Yahoo Sports reported that Wade had a conversion with runner Christian Dawkins in which he spoke about a “strong-ass offer” he made in the recruitment of freshman Javonte Smart. Wade remains suspended, but Smart was reinstated prior to the SEC tournament after sitting one game.
“I wish he’d come in and just tell the truth,” he added. “Just tell me what went on. I can handle the truth even if it’s bad.”
Alleva also said “This isn’t about me. It’s about the players.”
Really? Then why not issue a damn “No comment,” dumbass? Your whinings about Wade made headlines on practically every local and national outlet covering the tournament, and that completely outweighed what the team did yesterday. If it’s about the players and not you, you sure did a bang-up job of making sure people know it.
Not to mention let’s understand what Alleva is saying. He’s saying (1) that LSU’s basketball program is a bottomless pit of NCAA violations, and (2) that his coach is a liar.
EVEN IF BOTH OF THOSE THINGS ARE TRUE, it is not in Joe Alleva’s interest nor that of his employer, much less the paying customers of the LSU athletic department for him to advertise them to the public.
Has Will Wade not told the truth to Joe Alleva? Perhaps not. It appears as though Wade may have committed NCAA violations, which is what most of the college sports world thinks at this point at least partially due to the fact LSU has suspended him. But let’s remember that Wade’s job status changed over the implication that he’d offered NCAA-prohibited inducements in order to sign Javonte Smart, and Javonte Smart has played in two of the three games LSU has had since those wiretap transcripts came out.
So if it’s not the truth that Wade hasn’t broken NCAA rules where Smart is concerned and LSU is playing Smart, what does that mean? You’re only a little bit pregnant?
You either believe Wade is dirty, or you don’t. Playing Smart means you don’t think Will Wade is dirty where Smart is concerned. Perhaps you could defend Wade’s suspension by saying that until you can have an airing of the issues raised by those wiretap transcripts you’re concerned about the NCAA implications (lack of institutional control, and so on), but once you start bashing Wade over his supposed refusal to tell the truth at such an airing you are effectively branding him as irredeemable.
And the “I don’t know how deep this goes” comment is just about the stupidest thing that could possibly come out of Alleva’s mouth. You have just invited the NCAA to bring every investigator they have to come to Baton Rouge, and what’s more you have advertised that LSU absolutely lacks institutional control over the basketball program. You’re the athletic director. IT IS YOUR JOB to know “how deep this goes.” You HIRED Will Wade and you are supposed to have a handle on his recruiting practices.
LSU has already made at least an initial determination that the questions about Smart don’t go very deep. You made the decision to reinstate Smart, based on a finding, obviously, that he didn’t get paid to play at LSU. Well, if he didn’t get paid then Wade didn’t pay him. Which means that until something else surfaces, your position is that you DO know how deep this goes and it’s not as bad as people think.
What Alleva said was provocative, and in the worst possible way it could be. An organization which wasn’t 100 percent dysfunctional like LSU’s administration is would have recalled him from Jacksonville this very morning and given him a pink slip for his trouble.
Keeping Wade Ought To Be A Priority, But If It’s Not Possible There Are Options
What’s very apparent is that if LSU had a competent athletic administration they’d be looking (or maybe, better put, looking a lot harder) for a way to bring Will Wade back as head coach as soon as possible – even this year, if Benford can beat Maryland and get them into the tournament’s second weekend.
And beyond this season LSU, if it had a competent athletic administration, would be prepared to ride out whatever NCAA storm might be coming with Wade. By appearances this is the best basketball coach LSU has ever had, and he’s worth keeping even if that means bad notices from the Clay Travises and Dick Vitales of the world whom nobody at LSU should give a tinker’s damn about. If that means two or three years of a rough time with NCAA sanctions, so be it – let’s remember that John Brady took a team to the NCAA Sweet 16 (that was the one Stromile Swift starred on) while on probation, so if the program got hit with sanctions it’s hardly the end of the world.
With Wade, you know that you’re going to have a competitive team. He had one last year, and that was with Waters, Mays and not a lot else. If for two or three years he’ll have to make do with some transfers, JC kids and “program” recruits not ranked in the national top 100, he’s still going to be flirting with the NCAA bubble – and then those sanctions will eventually go away and you’ll have an established program with an established coach who has relationships with all the high school and AAU coaches around the country he needs to get top players and win. Not to mention we’ve seen how much better Mays has become under Wade’s tutelage – we ought to expect he can do the same for Williams and Days, and for Andre Hyatt and Courtese Cooper who are redshirting this year and James Bishop, a 3-star recruit committed for next year. Three years from now when whatever storm is coming has passed, those guys will be seniors and juniors and LSU could have a solid, veteran team.
All of that is quite possible. It’s likely, unless something like an NCAA show-cause ruling which bans Wade from coaching should come down the pike.
What it looks like now, though, is that LSU is giving up on Wade. Maybe they know something the rest of us don’t, and the show-cause issue is real. If that’s the case, a hire will have to be made. (If it isn’t the case, and LSU runs off Wade only to find he gets a clean bill of health from the NCAA later, there is an almost inevitable scenario coming in which Wade lands at some mid-major program like Florida Atlantic or Little Rock and proceeds to turn them into a bracket-busting demon, and in a few short years he reappears on LSU’s schedule at an Arkansas or Texas A&M.)
If a replacement for Wade is needed, two coaches stand out as worthy of a look, and both of them should be extremely interested even despite the ridiculous, malicious non-stop errors Alleva makes as athletic director.
First is Matt McMahon, the coach at Murray State. If you happened to be watching the mauling McMahon’s team laid on Marquette last night, what you’ll notice is that the Racers aren’t just a team which happens to have Ja Morant on it. Morant is an exquisite player, which is why he’s likely to be the second man drafted after Zion Williamson in the NBA Draft this summer, but Murray State puts five legitimate dudes on the court – and the beating they laid on a quality #5 seed last night was no fluke. McMahon has won 54 games in the last two years since he found Morant on a bargain pile in Dalzell, South Carolina (he was unranked out of high school), and his team is exceptionally fun to watch. And Murray State coaches have a pretty good record of doing well after they’ve moved on; McMahon was an assistant to Steve Prohm there before taking over, and Prohm has done a great job at Iowa State the past few years (he’s likely coming to the SEC as Avery Johnson’s replacement at Alabama), and there’s a good line of coaches from there prior to Prohm – Billy Kennedy, Mick Cronin and Mark Gottfried, among them.
And today, we’ll get a chance to watch Nate Oats coach Buffalo. Oats is 31-3 this year after going 27-9 and beating Arizona in the tournament last year. Oats, who took over as head coach at Buffalo after Bobby Hurley, to whom he was an assistant, took the job at Arizona State. He’s doing a bit better than Hurley is, which is an indication Oats might have been the secret to Hurley’s success. Buffalo has been wearing people out all year, and like Murray State they’re a lot of fun to watch.
These are both mid-major coaches like Wade was, and they’re both young guys who seem to have the ability to develop players and get them to play a quality style of ball – and to win consistently. Murray Sate and Buffalo were both 16-2 in their respective leagues, like LSU was in the SEC this year.