Who coaches LSU will mean more going forward than it did in Sweet 16 loss to MSU
Will Wade wouldn’t have made up the difference.
Perhaps LSU would have played better in its season-ending 80-63 loss to Michigan State in the Sweet 16 Friday if its suspended head coach weren’t suspended.
But the No. 3-seeded Tigers weren’t going to beat the No. 2-seeded Spartans with or without Wade.
MSU was the better team – clearly.
Maybe Wade would have had a better game plan, maybe he would have made better adjustments during the game, maybe he would have had some fire-and-brimstone halftime speech that would have contributed to a better performance by LSU.
But none of that was going to lift the Tigers past MSU and into the Elite Eight.
Interim coach Tony Benford’s team started poorly, settled in late in the first half, began the second half playing the way it had in compiling a 28-6 record before Friday, but couldn’t sustain it against Tom Izzo’s sharp and savvy bunch.
It was an outstanding season for the Tigers, one that surpassed even the most optimistic of expectations, one that also tested Benford and the players’ mettle. None of them were found lacking.
Wade built this LSU team and he molded it. He guided it to the brink of the SEC regular-season championship before his refusal to discuss with university officials a taped conversation that seemed to demonstrate that he violated NCAA rules triggered his suspension before the regular-season finale.
The Tigers stumbled in the SEC Tournament then regrouped admirably for the NCAA Tournament.
But the Spartans were a hurdle they couldn’t clear. LSU showed glimpses of its best in both halves, but MSU was steady for 40 minutes.
The Tigers scored the first 8 points of the second half, getting points on each of their first four possessions.
The Tigers got within 4 points twice but just as quickly as they reduced the lead, the Spartans rebuilt, not only to the 12-point halftime margin but beyond that at 56-41 with more than 14 minutes remaining and eventually to as many as 18 points
When the game started the Big Ten regular-season co-champions and tournament champions were ready to roll. The SEC regular-season champions were not.
MSU scored the first 8 points of the game and led by as many as 17 points on their way to a 40-28 halftime lead.
The Spartans had significant advantages in rebounding, especially on the offensive glass, and 3-point shooting, but more generally in terms of effort and efficiency. The statistics were merely a result of superior confidence and precision.
A strong first-half finish, which included Tremont Waters’ 3-pointer in the final seconds, pushed LSU within striking distance going into the second half.
The Tigers struck quickly and briefly showed the form that brought about one of the bigger turnarounds in the country this season.
But it didn’t last against a tall and talented opponent that looks capable of advancing out of Washington D.C., this weekend.
LSU’s stay in the NCAA Tournament went just as the East Region seedings suggested. The Tigers were better, though not a great deal better, than a game No. 14 seed in Yale and they were barely better than a No. 6 seed in Maryland.
But they weren’t as good as the No. 2 seed, not because of Wade’s absence but because Izzo brought a better team with him.
Despite the Wade soap opera, which will come to a conclusion sometime during the off-season, this season was a significant one in the restoration of the LSU basketball program.
Whether that restoration continues depends largely on what, if any, NCAA sanctions are coming.
And it also depends on who coaches the Tigers moving forward.
Will it be Wade? Almost certainly not.
Will it be Benford? Perhaps.
Will it be someone not yet on the LSU radar? Could be.
Who the coach was Friday night didn’t mean much, but who it winds up being in the future will mean a lot.