LSU needing to stop its tailspin Wednesday night at Mississippi State

Photo by Gus Stark

There’s a sense of urgency in the voice of LSU basketball coach Will Wade.

His team is losing games because of lack of rebounding and occasional defense.

His schedule is losing opponents because of COVID-19 protocols.

Neither one is helping his fading Tigers, losers of four of their last five games, stay in the hunt for an NCAA tournament bid as they head to Mississippi State for a Wednesday night televised ESPNU game set for an 8 p.m tipoff.

LSU (11-6, 6-4 SEC) was supposed to play at home vs. Florida last Saturday. But the Gators, just as they also did in football with the Tigers, failed to meet COVID-19 standards set forth by the SEC and the game was postponed.

“We wanted to play, I thought our guys were ready to play,”: Wade said. “If we would have found out the day before instead of Friday morning after practice, we would have gone to Arkansas and played Arkansas on Saturday. But, it just wasn’t feasible.”

With six SEC games remaining (not counting COVID postponed games at Missouri and vs. Florida), the Tigers have just two Quad 1 wins (the most valuable type of win on a resume to earn an NCAA tourney at-large bid) this season. Quad 1 opponents are home games against teams in the top 30 of NET (the NCAA evaluation tool), neutral-site games against the top 50 and road games against the top 75.

Wade is hoping the SEC can work its scheduling magic to shuffle the deck to get the postponed games played. On the surface, it appears NBA-type scheduling might be used to make it work.

“We don’t have a game technically next Wednesday right now and there’s a make-up date later on in the year,” Wade said. “But this isn’t football where you need five days to prepare. You can play three or four games in a week. You can play back-to-back days.”

All Wade can do at this point is address the challenge in front of him.

“All the games down the stretch are going to be critical, we’ve certainly got to win some games and this is the next one,” he said. “They (Mississippi State) are a Quad 1 road team (barely at No. 73).”

The Bulldogs (11-9, 5-6) have lost four of their last five SEC games, and have played with maddening inconsistency. They beat then-No. 13 Missouri 78-63 and Florida 72-69, which beat LSU 83-79. Yet they’ve also lost to Texas A&M and Ole Miss.

LSU’s matchups against MSU will be challenging, especially on the inside where the Bulldogs start 6-11 Abdul Ado and 6-10 Tolu Smith.

State is strong where the Tigers are suspect, ranking third in the SEC points in the paint points (628) and in second-chance points (245). The Bulldogs have outrebounded 17 of its 20 opponents, highlighted by a plus 10 rebounding margin in eight games.

Without Day, LSU has virtually no rebounding besides 6-9 sophomore forward Trendon Watford, whose averages have fallen to 16.8 and 7.3 rebounds. He has two straight uncharacteristic poor performances against Texas Tech and Alabama in which he shot a combined 5 of 24 from the field and 3 of 10 from the foul line.

LSU is being carried, for better or for worse depending on their shot selection, by freshman guard Cam Thomas (an SEC-leading 22.3 points per game) and junior point guard Javonte Smart (15.4 ppg, 3.8 apg).

Besides Watford, the Tigers don’t have another dependable scoring threat, even off their three-deep bench of 6-7 Josh LeBlanc, 6-10 Shareef O’ Neal and 6-2 Eric Gaines. And if Days can’t start, it will be LeBlanc.

“We don’t leave room for much margin of error in the sense that those three (bench players) have to play extremely well,” Wade said. “We need contributions from those guys in other facets. We need guys who want to rebound, who want to dive on loose balls. We need winning plays, winning spirit. It’s been very clearly explained the last few days (by Wade to his team) what’s needed.

“Our stars have to also play well and those other guys have to fill in the gaps for us to have a chance.”

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