LSU, Will Wade avoid “odd” encounter with VCU in Maui – for now

By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor

Pardon Will Wade if he isn’t thoroughly versed on the early season success Michigan – LSU’s opening opponent in the Maui Invitational, as announced by the tournament on Tuesday – has had in recent years.

Or if he says he hasn’t dedicated much brain power to contemplating a matchup against VCU, whom he just left for the Tigers.

He’s been a little busy.

“I found out we were playing [Michigan] this morning,” Wade said Tuesday. “Obviously, I haven’t seen a whole lot…We’ve had so much going on here, with the recruiting, and the roster, and practicing. I haven’t had a whole lot of time to think about the Maui matchups.”

Tuesday’s announcement of the field provided a little time for those very thoughts. For better or worse, a matchup with VCU is possible, but unlikely: the two programs are on opposite sides of the bracket, and would only meet on the third day, if at all. Wade’s departure from the program he spent two years leading as head coach and four more aiding as an assistant this spring would certainly make the matchup intriguing for outsiders.

For him, it’d carry a different weight.

“I’m worried about Michigan and our side of the bracket first, but if we met VCU, it would certainly be an odd experience,” he said. “You coached those kids a year before, you recruited some of them, and you’re playing against them. It would be a different experience, but we’ll play who we play with the way the bracket goes.”

Wade’s replacement at VCU, Mike Rhoades, is no stranger to the LSU head man. The former Rice head coach served alongside Wade as a VCU assistant from 2009-2013, as the Rams reached a Final Four and three NCAA Tournaments.

I’m a VCU fan,” Wade said. “VCU’s a great place, passionate fans, good players, good people. Mike Rhoades and I are very good friends. We roomed together for four years when we were assistants.  It’d be an interesting experience. You never like to play friends. You never like to play people you’re that familiar with, but that’s the way it goes. We’ll prepare our team the best we can. They’ll prepare them the best we can, and we’ll see who’s better that afternoon.”

Enough with the hypotheticals. LSU’s only guaranteed opponent is John Beilein’s Michigan squad, which has reached the NCAA Tournament six of the last seven years, with three Sweet 16 berths, two Elite Eight appearances, and a Final Four run in 2012-13 that ended with a loss in the NCAA Tournament Championship Game.

“Michigan will be a big challenge for us,” Wade said. “They’re a perennial national program. They’ve had tremendous teams, tremendous success under Coach (John) Beilein. They return very good players, a big kid in (Moritz) Wagner, and in the guards, they’ve added a graduate transfer in (Jaaron) Simmons, who I know is a very good player, so it’ll be a tough game against a big-time opponent from the Big Ten, and we’ll certainly need to play well to give ourselves an opportunity to get it done.

“But, we’re excited to be in the Maui Invitational. It’s a phenomenal tournament and it’ll be a phenomenal experience for our players, for our fans, and we’re looking forward to getting out there.”

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