LSU MBB Tops Auburn

LSU men's basketball head coach Will Wade calls out a play Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 during LSU's 104-80 win against Auburn at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on N Stadium Drive in Baton Rouge, La. 

LSU men’s hoops (19-10) concluded its season with a hard-fought loss against one-seed Michigan, narrowly missing out on advancing to the Sweet 16. Many LSU fans would consider this a successful season when looking back on the last decade, but when your team features some of the best collective talent in recent memory, expectations tend to be a little bit higher.

On multiple occasions, LSU flashed its true potential, especially heading into the tournament. It had key wins against a ranked Tennessee and tournament-bound

Missouri down the stretch, followed by wins against Ole Miss and No. 8 Arkansas in the SEC Tournament to advance to the championship game.

The team would ultimately suffer its third, and closest, loss of the season to Alabama. Many would argue that a win there would have propelled LSU’s tournament seeding to seven or even six, providing the Tigers with a much more realistic chance of making it to the Sweet 16 or further, given that an eight-seed’s path to the championship is arguably the toughest.

With the Tigers playing the way they were in the games leading up to the tourney, it isn’t difficult to imagine them taking down a two or three-seed (or in this tournament’s case, 14 or 15-seed) in the second round, as the Tigers had just lost to a two-seed (Alabama) by a single point.

But as the saying goes, “Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.”

It’s arguable that LSU had three to six-seed talent, so how did it end up being an eight-seed? How did it lose by double digits to a Kentucky team that went 9-16? And how did it lose its regular-season matchups versus Alabama by a combined 48 points?

The main factor that isn’t hard to analyze is team defense. It was something that fans hoped would be improved upon after last season, where the Tigers finished 230th in defensive scoring efficiency (DSE). They did improve, but that improvement was minuscule.

The Tigers ranked 229th in DSE this season and were even lower in other defensive categories like opponent points per game (280th) and opponent 2nd half points per game (307th). They nearly gave up 40 points per game in the second half alone, which is where strong defense is most vital.

Since Will Wade started coaching LSU in 2017, the Tigers have only ranked above 200th in DSE once to finish a season.

It’s disappointing, not just because that’s abysmal, but because the opposite is the case when it comes to offense. The Tigers have ranked in the top-15 in points per game in every year under Wade except for his debut and have ranked sixth or above in the last two.

Usually, if a team is ranked that high offensively in a Power five conference, you expect that team to be a contender or around that level. But balance is incredibly important in basketball, and when a team isn’t balanced, it tends to fall.

In the 2018-19 season (Wade’s most successful season), LSU ranked in the top-150 in DSE, which isn’t amazing, but with a top-15 scoring offense, it was enough to earn it an SEC regular season title and a spot in the Sweet 16. If they’re able to crack the top-100 or higher while maintaining their incredible success on offense, the Tigers will be an extremely dangerous team.

This leads one final question: will they even get another chance under Wade?

For one, it’s expected that LSU’s big four (Cameron Thomas, Javonte Smart, Trendon Watford and Darius Days) are all heading to the NBA, which will leave the roster borderline unrecognizable come next year. But more importantly, Will Wade’s remaining time with the program could be limited.

Though his current contract doesn’t expire until 2023, the allegations regarding paying recruits to come to LSU remain relevant. Arizona fired its coach Wednesday for the same allegations, so it’s definitely a possibility. With Wade’s controversy, his immaturity when dealing with these allegations and his inability to get the Tigers to the next level, it is believable that his time with the Tigers could be running out.

If he were fired before the start of next season, he will have left behind an impressive yet disappointing legacy with the LSU men’s basketball program. That legacy will be on the mind of LSU fans everywhere for the years to come as they ask themselves what could have been.

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