lsumissstatebasketball.030418_643

LSU head coach Will Wade points to his players in the second half of LSU's 78-57 win over Mississippi State Saturday in LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

For weeks, Will Wade has been reluctant to talk about the LSU basketball team’s postseason chances beyond the Southeastern Conference tournament.

There was a reason for that: In his first year with a team that had been wildly inconsistent for a good portion of the season, Wade wanted the Tigers to focus only on the present.

To be sure, he didn’t need any players to be thinking and dreaming about something that would be determined only by their play on the court — good, or bad — down the stretch.

It had to be first things first. So to Wade, it was necessary to tamp down that kind of speculation, at least openly, until the regular season wrapped up.

Privately, Wade was probably thinking it was going to take at least 17 victories to even be in the postseason conversation going to the SEC tournament, which begins Wednesday in St. Louis.

So when LSU closed the book on the regular season with a thorough 78-57 thumping of Mississippi State for its 17th win Saturday, it was time to talk postseason.

Actually, Wade jumped the gun following back-to-back losses at Georgia and South Carolina last week, which likely ended any longshot NCAA hopes he may have been harboring — privately, of course.

So he talked to the Tigers about something more realistic for where they’re at in his program’s development: The National invitation Tournament.

“After the South Carolina game, I said, ‘Look, we’re trying to will ourselves into the NCAA tournament … but this is who we are,’ ” Wade acknowledged Saturday. “The NIT would be a great step for us if we could get in that tournament.

“I think we’d be good enough, if we got in there, to make a run and maybe have a chance to go to New York,” he said. “So that would be a great year just to get in that thing. That’s our goal at this point.”

Finishing 17-13 overall and in a tie for ninth place in an SEC race that was as tough as it has ever been, not to mention seven wins against top-50 RPI teams, should do it barring an unlikely dash to the SEC tournament final and back into the NCAA conversation.

The website NYCbuckets.com, which publishes a projected NIT bracket, predicts LSU as an NIT No. 4 seed hosting a first-round game against Washington.

Still, Wade knows it wouldn’t hurt to do a little more, starting Thursday night against the same Mississippi State team LSU rolled over Saturday.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape right now,” he said before learning the 10th-seeded Tigers would face No. 7-seeded Mississippi State for a second time in six days. “I’d love to get one more (win) in St. Louis. Once we get that, then we can try to build from there.

“But I do think we deserve to continue playing, and hopefully, it’s the NIT.”

Saturday’s game affirmed his belief that the Tigers are worthy of a bid.

LSU’s defense harassed Mississippi State at just about every turn in forcing turnovers, coming up with steals and contesting shots that resulted in the Bulldogs shooting 41.1 percent overall — 26.1 percent on 3-pointers.

Offensively, LSU shot 56.0 percent in the second half and 51.9 percent for the game to go 11-0 when they connect on at least half of their field-goal attempts.

“I have to go back and watch the tape, and I hesitate to say this without watching, but this is about as well as we have played in a while,” Wade said. “I thought it was as well as we have guarded and executed the game plan. It was one of our most complete games, for sure.”

Note

The final Will Wade Tipoff Luncheon of the season will be held Monday at L’Auberge Casino Hotel, with the Tigers coach giving a recap of the regular season and preview of the SEC tournament.

The gathering is held in the Bon Temps Buffet at the back of the casino area and is open to the public. The buffet, which costs $14.95 per person, begins at 11:30 a.m. with the program starting around 12:10 p.m.

Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter, @MicklesAdvocate.