These are the pains that come along with the growing the LSU men’s basketball program is trying to do.
Saturday brought a 95-70 blowout loss at Southeastern Conference-leading Auburn, a game that for LSU had all the numbing charm of a root canal.
Monday, even the anesthetic wore off. First-year coach Will Wade announced that he has permanently booted forward Galen Alexander from the team, dismissed forward Mayan Kiir for at least the remainder of this season and suspended forward Wayde Sims and guard Brandon Rachal for Wednesday’s game at Tennessee.
All played in reserve roles at Auburn. Knowing what he knows now, Wade probably would have left the four home then. Wade acknowledged he made his decisions before the Auburn game but needed more time “to do what needed to be done.” It’s not the world’s greatest excuse but, given the way it turned out, it’s highly unlikely Wade was hoping the four players would help LSU upset Auburn.
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Wade’s disciplinary moves will leave the Tigers with just seven available scholarship players to take on the No. 18-ranked Volunteers, fading LSU’s already slender hopes of an upset to a near vanishing point.
It’s a killer for this LSU team to have to go through such a shocking loss of key players and hard-to-replace depth right now. At 12-8 overall (3-5 SEC) and with an RPI of 81, LSU is still trying to nurse hopes of at least an NIT appearance into reality. A win at Tennessee, were the Tigers to be able to pull it off, would be their sixth against an RPI top-50 team (the Volunteers were at No. 13 Monday) and would turn a lot of heads with LSU’s ability to pick itself up after getting decked at Auburn.
But discipline, drawing the line and not putting up with a lot of shenanigans is more important for this program for the long term.
Wade doesn’t come across as a “let me be your buddy” type with his players. Beneath that cherubic 35-year-old face is some hard iron. He didn’t say what the four disciplined players did to earn what they got, but it’s obvious from his demeanor and tone he doesn’t put up with a load of foolishness.
“It’s a tough day any time you’ve got to make decisions like that,” Wade said on his weekly radio show Monday night, near the end of a day that started with a 6 a.m. film session that forced his team to face the horrors of the Auburn game. “But that’s why you’re the head coach."
Earlier Monday at a short and somber news conference, Wade said, “You have to maintain a culture. You have to maintain a level of discipline within your program.”
The middle of your first season, when you were picked last in the SEC before the season, is the best time to draw a line for the seasons to come. Though LSU caused some flutters with its back-to-back road wins at Texas A&M and Arkansas, expectations will never be lower than this season. If disciplining players costs you a game or more, now is the time.
Regardless, it’s quite a load for this LSU program and its young coach to deal with all at once. Monday had already brought national scrutiny as an NBCSports.com story questioned LSU’s previously reported decisions to bring in transfer forward Kavell Bigby-Williams from Oregon and pursue a commitment from five-star forward Emmitt Williams.
Bigby-Williams, sitting out this season under NCAA transfer rules, arrived at LSU after being investigated under a rape charge from 2016. Bigby-Williams was never charged. Williams was arrested in October on charges of sexual battery and false imprisonment. Charges were filed but dropped in December.
Wade was unable to comment publicly on Williams because he is not an LSU signee. Of Bigby-Williams, Wade told The Advocate’s Sheldon Mickles on Monday: “We issued a statement on Kavell when we signed him, and we’re sticking by what we issued.” That statement said LSU had fully investigated Bigby-Williams and was satisfied with its ability to sign him in good conscience. It is worth noting that Oregon didn’t suspend him during the 2016-17 season after he was charged.
It’s right that LSU and Wade get closely examined for the players it has and wants to bring into the program.