Three Questions Facing LSU After It Loses SEC Tournament Opener

Posted by David Changas on March 15th, 2019

When news broke before LSU’s regular season finale against Vanderbilt last weekend that coach Will Wade would be suspended as a result of his implication in possibly arranging a payment to secure the commitment of Javonte Smart, no one knew what impact it would have on a team that was set to clinch the SEC championship. A comfortable win over the woeful Commodores did just that, and despite Smart being held out for precautionary reasons, the first real test for the Tigers would come against Florida on Friday. After appearing to be well on their way to passing it in racing out to a 10-point halftime lead, a more aggressive – and perhaps more desperate – Gators squad pulled off a 73-70 upset behind a last-second three-pointer from freshman Andrew Nembhard. Now, LSU heads to the NCAA Tournament, where it likely will be slotted as a #2 or #3 seed, with a number of unanswered questions.

LSU Interim Coach Tony Benford has a tall task ahead of him. (Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports)
  1. How significant will Wade’s absence on the sidelines be during games? LSU was clearly ready to play on Friday, as it came out with energy and worked to get the ball inside — where it had a decided advantage — early in the game. When things started to go wrong in the second half, though, interim coach Tony Benford did not appear up to the challenge of keeping the Tigers calm. The Tigers led by three points when Naz Reed was called for running through a Florida screen. A tick after the whistle, Florida hit a three, which the referees inexplicably counted. What was already a disastrous possession was then made worse when Benford picked up a technical foul, ultimately contributing to a six-point trip that changed the entire complexion of the game. Benford was justified in his outrage, of course, but he admitted afterward that he deserved the technical, and that he should have shown the restraint necessary to avoid the technical. His lack of experience in that situation clearly hurt the Tigers today.
  2. Will the LSU players tune out their new coach? Who knows what is to become of LSU after this bizarre season ends, and whether it even matters if they continue to win given the possibility of everything being vacated. With a talented group of players who could be ready to leave school in the aftermath of Wade’s likely dismissal, perhaps they will tune out Benford, who has been put in an untenable position. The players deny that they will, but would anyone really be surprised if the Tigers turned their 16-2 SEC record into an early departure from the NCAA Tournament?
  3. Will the Tigers get any calls? Based upon the aforementioned circumstance, as well as officiating as a whole on Friday, the early answer is no. LSU was called for 24 fouls, while Florida was whistled for only 10. This was the case despite LSU being the more aggressive team, and the Gators taking 28 threes (nine more than the Tigers). After the game, Benford seemed resigned to the fact that this type of officiating is what his team can expect going forward. “We’re not going to get any calls. I heard guys [say] when there’s an interim coach, you’re not getting any calls. I thought they fouled, we fouled some. They got the calls, we didn’t get the calls.” Based on the numbers, he is correct. But his belief that this will continue also likely is accurate, and that could spell trouble for the Tigers when the games really count.

LSU’s situation is unlike anything we have seen in college basketball in the recent past. For a supremely talented team to lose its coach under these circumstances with one game left in the regular season is essentially unprecedented. Whether the Tigers can overcome all that has been put in front of them is an open question, but there is no doubt that they have a significant hill to climb.

David Changas (164 Posts)


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