LSU is “miles away” from worrying about NCAA Tournament “junk” ahead of Vanderbilt rematch

Will Wade is used to being on the bubble. He made two straight NCAA Tournaments with VCU as a 10 seed, so Februaries spent worrying about tournament resumes are nothing new to him.

Despite his team’s fringe bubble status currently – Bracket WAG has LSU (15-11, 6-8 SEC) among its “First Four Out,” and LSU has six top-25 RPI wins, tops in the nation – Wade isn’t talking tournament with his team ahead of Tuesday’s tip with Vanderbilt.

“Hell no,” Wade said, asked if he has any big picture conversations with his team about the postseason. “I’ve been on that bubble a lot, different places I’ve been. About the most I’ll tell them is, ‘I’m the expert. You just listen to me. You don’t listen to what anyone else is saying.’

“We worry about being the best we can be today. We’ve got to beat Vanderbilt today with our preparation to give ourselves a chance to beat Vanderbilt tomorrow when it’s game day. We’re miles away from worrying about that junk.”

LSU is still very much on the outside looking in with regards to its tournament hopes. Neither ESPN or CBS has the Tigers even on the bubble, and its RPI sits at 75, well below the typical cut-off for an at-large bid receiver. (ESPN’s lowest-ranked at-large projection is currently Texas at No. 52 in the RPI.)

This program is also in an entirely different place than Wade’s used to. VCU has made every NCAA Tournament since 2011. LSU has made just one in that same period of time.

“It’s different,” Wade said. “I’ve done it with teams that are used to going. It’ll be a different vibe. We’re not at that point yet. In the past, I’ve maybe had some guys who could lead the way a little bit – ‘This is how we do it. This is how we go about things.’ I fall to the background, let things go.

“Here, if that’s the case, that is not how things will go. If I let that happen, we’ll drive that car in the ditch real quick.”

Hypothetically speaking, LSU would need to beat Vanderbilt – who knocked off the Tigers in Nashville earlier in the season – and win at least two of its next three: at Georgia, at South Carolina, and home to Mississippi State. That, plus a couple of SEC Tournament wins, would put the Tigers at 20 wins and squarely on the bubble.

“It’s hard not to look ahead,” said sophomore Skylar Mays. “When you turn on the TV and see yourself on the Next Four out…I don’t know a lot about that stuff. At the end of the day, we need to take care of business tomorrow.”

Wade says the focus is on Vanderbilt, and Vanderbilt only. LSU will have to guard Riley Lachance and Jeff Roberson far better than the first matchup, where the two combined for 46 of the Commodores’ 77 points. LSU will also need to be more aggressive driving to the rim, Wade said, and spend more time shooting free throws than it did in Nashville.

“We just gotta focus on today, being very good today,” Wade said. “That stuff doesn’t matter probably for another week or 10 days. Get back to me if we’ve won a couple games this week. I promise I’ll revisit that stuff. I have very little interest in that right now.”

For Mays, however, even having this conversation is a breath of fresh air. He was a freshman on last year’s squad that did little winning after December. To even consider the possibility after February basketball brings a smile to his face.

“The one thing we have is hope,” Mays said. “We have a chance, we have an opportunity to give ourselves a chance to play in March.”

Winning Season

There is one number Wade is eyeing Tuesday: 16. LSU’s 16th win will ensure they finish with a non-losing record and one win away from ensuring a winning season, which Wade said “would be a heckuva first step.”

“Let’s do that, and, what do we say, lagniappe from there,” he said.

A reporter followed up asking if a winning season was one of Wade’s big goals coming into the season, and the first-year head coach was incredulous in his response.

“Having a winning season? That was by far my first goal. Are you kidding me? We were 10-21 last year, guys! We lost 15 straight games. Shoot! We’ve won six SEC games. We won two! The first goal was to not have a losing season. That would be phenomenal. That would be a major step. Heck yeah. That was goal one, then we can move on to bigger and better things, hopefully. We gotta be realistic now.

“If we get to 16 (wins), we’re not trying to pat ourselves on the back, that’s pretty good from where we came from. That doesn’t get anybody real excited, but the number one goal going into the season was, ‘Let’s not have a losing season.'”

 

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Cody Worsham

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