LSU tries to win under the radar

Scooter Hobbs

Maybe it’s the way the NCAA Tournament was canceled a year ago, but it seems like it’s been forever since LSU, which will play St. Bonaventure today in this year’s Indiana-centric affair, has played in the Big Dance.

It couldn’t have been that long ago, though.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

The Tigers didn’t miss anything that anyone else didn’t last year when the COVID Curtain was pulled on it all.

And LSU reached the Sweet 16 the last time the Tigers and everybody else were dancing.

Remember Tony Benford?

Don’t everybody shout at once.

You’ve got 10 seconds.

It’s on the tip of your tongue.

OK, time’s up.

Benford was the last LSU basketball coach to reach the NCAA basketball tournament — he went 2-1 in 2019, beating Yale and Maryland before losing to Michigan State.

He was the interim LSU basketball coach at the time, subbing for Will Wade.

Oh, yeah. It’s coming back to you now.

It turns out that today will be Wade’s NCAA Tournament debut with the Tigers. That surely doesn’t sound right because Wade has won a whole bunch of games at LSU in four years, got credit for winning the SEC regular season two years ago and recently made the final of the SEC Tournament last week before losing by a missed tip at the buzzer against regular-season champ Alabama.

He went 21-10 last season when everybody was left waiting at the altar.

And what was it, again, that kept him out the previous year?

There were, shall we say, extenuating circumstances in play for Wade during LSU’s last dance when Benford stood in.

Oh, yeah. LSU had suspended him just before the end of the regular season when he refused to sit down and cooperate not only with NCAA officials but with his own school’s investigators over some strong accusations about his recruiting practices.

He was reinstated when he did agree to at least talk to his own bosses — and sign an amended contract that allows them to fire him with cause depending on how the investigation turns out.

Two years later, it still hasn’t been resolved.

It only seems like longer.

It’s more proof that the NCAA can move at a snail’s pace, but these things don’t just disappear.

So LSU now faces a tough task for whatever plans the Tigers have for March Madness.

LSU was playing at its best at the end of the season and should get past St. Bonaventure, although it’s not the easiest matchup for the Tigers.

They have had enough lapses to know they can lose to anybody.

But they also have the talent to beat anybody, including, if it all works out, No. 1 seed Michigan on Monday in the second round.

That would surely garner a lot of attention.

But the Wolverines may be the least of the Tigers’ problems.

Then they would be forced to ponder an odd dilemma.

Is it possible to make a mad dash through March Madness while keeping a low profile?

Can you tiptoe your way to the Final Four?

Can you have your One Shining Moment under an assumed name?

In the wake of the Title IX investigations, LSU hasn’t lately been wallowing in much decent public relations as it is.

Whatever run the Tigers might make doesn’t figure to be the feel-good story of the tournament.

You’ve seen it already.

The face, and mostly the mouth of college basketball, ESPN’s Dick Vitale, is done with his microphone for the year with CBS and its offshoots handling the telecasts from here on in.

And that’s a shame.

He and Wade already had a beaut of a feud going.

Wade didn’t appreciate Vitale bringing up the NCAA investigations while courtside for the SEC Tournament championship game — he even said Vitale lied to him the night before when he promised to keep his comments to the on-court action instead of the unsavory stuff.

Never mind that Wade doesn’t get to set a network’s agenda. Vitale, it turned out, didn’t bring it up and didn’t plan to. His producers popped up a graphic of the allegations and told him to talk about it. And ESPN signs his checks, not Wade or LSU.

Besides, if LSU doesn’t want to hear about the recruiting allegations, they might as well fake some positive COVID-19 tests and hightail it out of the tournament now.

They’re not going away.

And the more news the Tigers make on the court, the more chances there are for the off-court unpleasantries to step to center stage.

Quite the conundrum.

l

Scooter Hobbs covers LSU

athletics. Email him at

shobbs@americanpress.comScooter Hobbs updated

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