Will Wade doesn’t plan on going back to the NIT anytime soon. So, while he and his Tigers are there, the plan is to make the most of it, building for the future by winning now.
When LSU (17-14) hosts UL-Lafayette (27-6) at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, the present and the future of LSU hoops will all be under the microscope, as Wade takes charge of his first postseason run in his first year after taking over a squad that finished last place in the SEC.
“We don’t plan on playing in the NIT much more,” Wade told 104.5 ESPN’s Off the Bench Monday morning. “This is a chance for our seniors to take a 10-21 program and turn it into a winner. Not as big of a winner as we want right now, but a winner, and to lay the groundwork for us to advance in tournaments here in the near future.”
For an example of what the NIT can be, Wade looks to the west, where Texas Christian, 2017 NIT champs, are now getting set for the NCAA Tournament. That’s the formula Wade hopes to replicate, just two seasons after LSU, then under Johnny Jones, declined an NIT invite.
“A team like TCU used last year in the NIT as a springboard to getting a six-seed (in the NCAA Tournament) this year,” Wade said. “There’s been a lot of times that have used this as a springboard. We want to send the seniors out the right way. Hopefully, the seniors want to lay a foundation for what’s to come.”
What’s to come, Wade hopes, is more winning. Three of the four players LSU will bring in in a third-ranked 2018 recruiting class – Javonte Smart, Naz Reid, and Emmitt Williams – won state titles over the weekend. The goal, Wade says, is to combine that talent with what LSU brings back, which, he hopes, will have some postseason skins on its wall once March wraps up.
“It gives some validity to what we’ve told them we were going to do,” Wade said. “It gets some action behind our words. We’re going to build a winner. Sometimes, you wish you could skip a few steps, but that’s not the way it works. This is a good first step. We’re going to get used to winning, and we’ve got winners coming. We’re bringing in guys who are used to winning. We’re bringing in guys who know how to win. Hopefully, we’ll add them to a group of guys who have won a little more than they’re used to, and we can take off from there.”
If Wade’s reaction was subdued, his players’ reactions were – well, he doesn’t know. They had not met yet as of Monday’s 1:30 PM press conference, and there was no team watch party.
“It’s the NIT,” he said. “I watched it at home. I was watching film. I texted with them. That’s about it.
“We don’t want to get real used to getting excited about the NIT.”
ULL SCOUTING REPORT
“I have watched quite a bit (of tape) these last couple of days. We started watching when they lost. We were pretty sure we were going to play them. They are experienced, they are older. They have four transfers who start. The point guard who starts is a transfer from South Carolina (Marcus Stroman). Two guard started off at BYU (Frank Bartley). He is from Baton Rouge, he won a state title. The three man, (Malik) Marquetti is from USC. The four man (JaKeenan) Gant, was sick for the conference tournament. They probably would have won their conference if he doesn’t get sick. They won the regular season, not the tournament. He is obviously a transfer from Missouri. They are older. They are thick. The kid Bryce Washington, their five man, is a very good player. I watched him play in high school when he was at St. Augustine. Cedric Russell was supposed to visit us at VCU. He was obviously committed to LSU at some point. Went to Peabody in Alexandria. Their best three-point player. Johnathan Stove was a kid I recruited at Chattanooga. Jerekius Davis from Mississippi was a guy we recruited at Chattanooga right before we left. We know their roster, we know they have really good players. Coach (Bob) Marlin is a good coach. You don’t win 27 games if you don’t have a good team. They have good thick bodies and older kids, kids that have been around the block.”
On Brandon Rachal …
“Rachal has been playing really well. I think he is finally coming to grips with what his role is. It may not be exactly what he wants it to be. I think he is understanding what we need him to do. He really is a help for us defensively with his IQ, his toughness. He gives us a rebounding presence we don’t have. Offensively he has found his way. He is cutting a lot harder, staying around the rim, doing what he needs to do around the basket, which makes the other team have to guard and account for him. When you do that, we can keep him out there for an extended period of time.”
On Cajuns’ rebounding ability being an issue …
“Bryce Washington is one of five kids in the country that averages a double-double. I think he was second in the country in rebounding in February. Rebounding would certainly be a concern. That is not one of our strengths. That would be a concern. The kid Gant can really fly in there. The sophomore from Kentucky, (Justin Miller) big, thick, wide bodied. He can get in there and rebound. Their guards rebound. Bartley, the two man, can rebound so it is going to be an issue for us.”
On how he thinks his team views the opportunity to play in the NIT …
“We will see. I am going to meet with them in a little bit. I know myself and our coaching staff are excited. I expect my players will be excited. There were excited when we talked about it before. It is a great opportunity for us to keep playing and to play in competitive, highly charged games. We have to lift our level of play and play better than we have been playing.”
On the strengths that Louisiana-Lafayette has …
“They are very physical. I love their two guard, number four. The way he guards, chases screens, blows up every screen. He played here in Baton Rouge in high school. He and Stove won a state title here. He is a transfer form BYU. Physical kid. I love him. He makes shots. They are a good team. There is a reason they won 27 games. We are going to need to play well. Their physicality stuck out to me. I thought they were very physical on tape. They have a lot of like-size guys. A lot of guys who are 6’4” or 6’6” who are thick and they can switch. They are versatile in that way.”
On if he thinks the rule changes will have an impact …
“We will see. We are going to talk to our guys about that today. A lot of it is similar to FIBA rules. The 10 minute quarters and the fouls and that sort of thing. It may be a slight adjustment, but we will be fine.”