In the wake of a March win over ULL-Lafayette in the NIT that brought rare light to how LSU schedules, Will Wade unleashed a minutes-long diatribe on the nuances of the RPI.
There was ample discussion of three-year rolling RPIs, exempt tournaments, and home-and-homes, as Wade recited the intricacies of college basketball scheduling with the eloquence of an English professor waxing poetically about Shakespeare.
Hidden in plain sight within that rant was Wade’s supreme confidence in one thing: he knows what gets a team in the NCAA Tournament, and what knocks them out. And with the NCAA Tournament in the crosshairs of a 2018-19 LSU team featuring a third-ranked recruiting class and a returning veteran core of useful-to-excellent talent, he’s leaning on that knowledge heavily in year two.
Note: LSU will play all home games in an arena, not a gym. https://t.co/QPn9TtBGDO
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) June 12, 2018
With the release of the SEC matchups last week and LSU’s finalization of its non-conference schedule this week, here’s my breakdown of Wade’s work this year. (Note: some of this is lifted from a previous piece I wrote.)
Toughest SEC Road Trips: @Mississippi State, @Kentucky
Both teams are preseason top 25 opponents with eyes on the SEC title. Ben Howland’s Bulldogs bring back both Nick and Quinndary Weatherspoon, as well as point guard Lamar Peters, plus the nation’s No. 15 recruiting class, led by four-star forward Reggie Perry. Kentucky bolsters its No. 2 ranked recruiting class, featuring three five-stars in E.J. Montgomery, Immanuel Quickley, and Keldon Johnson, with the return of sophomore forward Pj Washington and point guard Quade Green.
Biggest SEC Home Dates: Auburn, Tennessee
The top two finishers in the SEC from 2017-18 bring back almost all of their best players, and welcome new talent, too. Auburn returns Bryce Brown, Jordan Harper, and five-star Austin Wiley, who missed last season due to the FBI’s inquiry into his recruitment. Tennessee brings back Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, point guard Jordan Bone, and sharpshooter Jordan Bowden.
Neutral Site Showdown: vs. St. Mary’s (Las Vegas)
LSU’s trip to Las Vegas to take on St. Mary’s on December 15 is a particularly intriguing contest. One part of a doubleheader in the MGM Resorts Showcase – BYU and UNLV will square off in the other half – the game pits the Tigers against a perennial 20-win team always near or in the NCAA Tournament discussion. St. Mary’s loses a ton of talent, but Randy Bennett’s teams are always tough – they knocked Wade’s VCU squad out of the dance in his final season in Richmond. This is a high-profile contest in a high stakes city where the Tigers can make an important statement on an NCAA Tournament resume.
Non-Con Contests: @Houston, vs. Memphis, UNC-Greensboro
Two AAC matchups for LSU that each have fascinating hooks. Houston loses star Rob Gray from its 2017-18 team (that LSU beat at home) which was a miracle last-second shot away from knocking eventual NCAA runners-up Michigan out of the NCAA Tournament, but Kelvin Sampson’s squad returns three-point threat Corey Davis and welcomes UMass transfer (and Louisiana native) DeJon Jarreau to the mix. Memphis, meanwhile, comes to Baton Rouge led by first-year head coach Penny Hardaway, who quickly cobbled together a top-25 recruiting class with three top-150 players.
Don’t sleep on UNC-Greensboro, either, a team that won 27 games last year, nearly toppling Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve won 52 games the last two seasons and bring back their best players, including sharpshooter Francis Alonso and SoCon Defensive Player of the Year James Dickey, who anchored a top-25 defense in the national ranks.
Turkey in Orlando: AdvoCare Invitational
The lack of star power in the schedule could be alleviated by LSU’s Thanksgiving week trip to the AdvoCare Invitational. Potential matchups could see LSU against defending national champions Villanova or 2018 Elite Eight appearers Florida State. For fans concerned that the biggest fish swimming into Baton Rouge in the non-conference will be Penny Hardaway’s first squad or a good-but-unknown UNC-G squad, here’s the chance for a Michigan-esque matchup early in the year.
In-State Load: Louisiana Tech, UL-Monroe, Southeastern, and Grambling
Wade boasted after last year’s win over UL-Lafayette in the NIT about his prowess in building strong RPI resumes by scheduling teams he anticipates will win 20+ games in the season. In his first year at LSU, he manipulated that formula in reverse: he tried to schedule teams with strong three-year rolling RPIs that would take steps back in 2017-18 – to assuage the SEC’s rules on non-conference scheduling while not stacking up too many tough foes for his first team. In 2018-19, he’ll try to do the opposite: scheduling teams he imagines will take big steps forward in 2018-19 – he ID’d Monroe and Southeastern as potential 20-win teams – in order to boost the resume of a tournament hopeful LSU.
“Trust me, look at our RPIs at VCU,” he said in the spring. “I know how to manipulate that formula, now. We can manipulate that stuff pretty good. That’s what it comes down to: doing what’s best for LSU. Making sure we’re putting our guys in the best position.”
VCU was 22nd in the RPI in Wade’s last year and 37th in his first season. There may not be any contests that leap off the page in this non-con haul at home, but be assured, there’s a method to Wade’s madness.
LSU 2018-19 Basketball Schedule (so far)
Nov. 6: Southeastern
Nov. 9: UNC-Greensboro
Nov. 13: Memphis
Nov. 16: Louisiana Tech
Nov. 22-Nov. 25: Advocare Invitational (Orlando, Fla.)
Dec. 1: Grambling
Dec. 9: Incarnate Word
Dec. 12: @Houston
Dec. 15: St. Mary’s (Las Vegas, MGM Resorts Showcase)
Dec. 21: Furman
Dec. 28: UL-Monroe
Conference (Dates TBA, listed in no particular order)
Texas A&M/@Texas A&M