Posted at 10:23 am on March 20, 2017

WORSHAM: Will Wade or Tom Crean? Either way, LSU wins

Will Wade | VCU Athletics
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By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor

Joe Alleva learned a great deal in five years on the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.

Among the more pertinent things LSU’s athletic director learned in that time: football can’t compete with basketball’s bounty of coaches

“There’s some great coaches out there,” Alleva told Gordy Rush in an interview posted on LSUSports.net. “In the sport of football, there’s only 65 schools in the Power 5 conferences. In the sport of basketball, there are 200 to 250 good basketball programs and coaches out there. It’s a much bigger marketplace.”

In the search for LSU’s next basketball coach, Alleva has taken his time in that marketplace, strolling casually as other Power 5 foes – Missouri, Washington, Illinois, and North Carolina State – quickly gobbled up their intended targets.

But after a week of NCAA Tournament play, it appears Alleva’s scope has narrowed, for now, to two names: Will Wade and Tom Crean.

Wade, 34, is perhaps the hottest young name in college coaching circles. He got his start as a student manager at Clemson before grooming himself as an ace recruiter under the watch of Tommy Amaker at Harvard and Shaka Smart at VCU.

After a two-year stint at Chattanooga, where he won a Southern Conference regular season title and Coach of the Year honors, he returned to succeed Smart at VCU, leading the Rams to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

In four seasons of head coaching experience, he’s 91-45 overall, and a stellar 55-15 in conference play.

Alleva and associate athletic director Eddie Nunez flew to Virginia Sunday to meet with Wade, who, sources tell Tiger Rag, is “highly interested” in the LSU opening. One source even said Wade has called LSU “a dream job.”

His buyout is around $1 million, and hiring him would probably require a multi-year deal near $2 million annually, but an investment in a young, up-and-coming coach can yield rich benefits. Just ask Mike White and Sweet 16-bound Florida.

Crean, meanwhile, remains the wildcard of the search. Alleva spent last week inquiring around college basketball about the recently-fired Indiana head coach, who is owed $4 million buyout after the Hoosiers terminated his contract.

His resume is fuller than Wade’s – three Sweet 16s and two Big 10 titles and Indiana, as well as a Final Four at Marquette, where he worked with Nunez – but it also has more holes. In nine seasons in Bloomington, Crean made only five NCAA Tournaments and had a Big 10 record of 71-91.

That, of course, doesn’t account for the situation Crean inherited from Kelvin Sampson. Indiana was mired in NCAA sanctions when Crean arrived. His first team was full of walk-ons and marginal prospects. After three difficult rebuilding seasons, Crean rejuvenated the program by year four, leading Indiana to four tournament trips in the next five seasons plus the pair of Big 10 regular season championships. His record over Indiana’s last six seasons: 138-69 overall, 63-45 in the Big 10.

Both coaches have flaws for nitpickers to focus on. Wade could be construed young and unproven; Crean, outcast and trending downward.

But both would ultimately be good hires for LSU, in different ways.

Wade would bring energy the program desperately needs. He’s young and hungry, and both of his VCU teams have been top-40 defensive squads – Johnny Jones has coached a single top-100 defensive unit in his entire career.

Crean, meanwhile, has consistently produced elite offenses. From 2012 to 2016, the Hoosiers ranked in the top 10 nationally in offensive efficiency four out of five seasons. He’s widely regarded as an offensive guru who would produce an attractive product on the floor.

Given the choice between the two, I’d lean Wade’s way. He’s recruited the South, and recruited it effectively, helping Amaker land a top 25 class at Harvard, of all places, and consistently landing top 100 players at VCU. His stock is on the rise, and while Crean may use his recent dismissal to fan his flames and re-ignite his career, I’m always a bit skeptical of fired coaches taking a lesser job. LSU doesn’t get the financial backing in basketball Indiana does; he’d have to do more with less to succeed.

But the good news is this: either way, Wade or Crean, LSU is going to get a good basketball coach. Both will bring fresh perspectives to a program in need of exactly that, and both will have every chance to succeed at LSU.

Alleva was right: the marketplace for basketball is bigger. It’s why he can afford to take his time and make sure he lands the right guy.

But there’s still work to be done. Cal remains the only major job open on the market, but there’s a fine line between patience and foot-dragging. The first could land you the very coach you need to reinvigorate your program; the latter could lead to settling for leftovers.

If it comes down to Wade or Crean, though, as appears to be the case, LSU fans should end up pleased with the process.

Coach Age Overall Record Conference Record
Will Wade 34 91-45 (.669) 55-15 (.786)
Tom Crean 50 356-231 (.606) 161-147 (.523)

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Cody Worsham

Editor at Tiger Rag
Cody Worsham has been the editor of Tiger Rag since 2012. He covers LSU football and basketball and is a graduate of the LSU Manship School of Journalism.

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