LSU, Wade push on in NCAA tournament despite cloud of suspicion

The enduring controversy that prevented LSU’s Will Wade from coaching his team in the last NCAA tournament two seasons ago hasn’t stopped him from getting the Tigers back to college basketball’s marquee event.

Wade is set to coach his first NCAA tournament game for the Tigers (18-9) on Saturday against St. Bonaventure (16-4), even as allegations of recruiting violations and the threat of future sanctions hang over the program.

“We’ve spent all our time worried about what’s going to happen on the court, what we can do to help our guys move forward,” Wade said after arriving this week in Indianapolis. “There’s a lot of other people dealing with other things—you know, attorneys and folks from the university and that sort of thing. So, we’ve focused on winning and doing what we can do to put our guys in the best position to be successful.”

Wade has now coached the Tigers to the tournament twice in his four seasons at LSU—and there was no tournament last season because of the pandemic. Before Wade’s arrival, LSU had made the tournament just twice in the previous 10 seasons, and under two different coaches.

The Tigers came within a point of beating No. 5 Alabama for the Southeastern Conference championship last weekend, and afterward were assigned the No. 8 seed in the East Region.

Meanwhile, LSU’s basketball success comes amid an investigation into recruiting violations that was referred this summer to the NCAA’s Independent Accountability Resolution Process.

The NCAA is looking into allegations that Wade improperly offered money to at least 11 potential recruits, or people associated with them.

LSU is one of two teams in the tournament, along with Kansas, which has allegations of recruiting violations going through the process.

A timeline for a final ruling isn’t clear.

“If we win, everybody would be happy, but the other issues LSU’s facing, they’re not going away,” says Louisiana native, LSU alumnus and political pundit James Carville. “We’ll be giddy, but 48 hours later, you’ve still got the same issues to deal with.”

In the meantime, LSU fans are just trying to enjoy the games and give Wade the benefit of the doubt, Carville says.

LSU’s prominent players include leading scorers Cameron Thomas (22.6 points per game) and Trendon Watford (16.7 points per game). Both came to LSU after 2019 reports about leaked FBI wiretap transcripts in which Wade talks about making a “strong” offer to then-freshman guard Javonte Smart. On that call, Wade was speaking with a man convicted in federal court of funneling money to the families of top college basketball recruits. Read the full story.