LSU basketball coach Will Wade responds to his team’s last-place projections

BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU men’s basketball team isn’t a media darling heading into the 2017-18 season.

LSU was picked to finish last in the SEC by the voters at SEC Media Day, replicating the Tigers’ finish from 2016-17. Logically, the vote makes sense. LSU went 2-14 in conference play last season, brought in a new coaching staff and had a level of roster turnover usually reserved for a team like Kentucky or Duke putting five players into the NBA. From the outside looking in, it’s understandable to think LSU will suffer another less-than-mediocre basketball season.

But new LSU coach Will Wade doesn’t see this vote as a catalyst for motivation. His players already should be motivated. They shouldn’t need any outside help with that.

“I don’t think with six minutes left in a close SEC game, you’re going to be sitting there thinking ‘Boy, I want to prove the beat writer from Arkansas wrong who predicted us 14th,'” Wade said at LSU Media Day on Tuesday. “That’s not going to do it. I think you need to focus more on what it takes to build your team up and what it takes to move your guys forward.”

So what does Wade think LSU needs to build up? The first answer is defense. Wade wants to cultivate a tough, disciplined identity, and that starts with improving a unit that easily finished as the worst defense in the SEC one year ago.

LSU’s defense isn’t where he wants it to be. Not even close. Sophomore point guard Skylar Mays says Wade’s expectations are so high there’s no telling if they’re achievable. But that’s the standard Wade is striving for.

When the Tigers practiced Tuesday afternoon, the entire session was focused on defense. Offense was an afterthought. From fundamental work to half-court communication to awareness in transition, Wade said he wanted to hammer defensive skills.

Because he knows what his team is capable of.

“I don’t anticipate scoring points is going to be a big issue for us,” Wade said. “I think maybe stopping the other team is going to be a little bit bigger issue.”

Still, Wade knows what the perception is around his team. LSU is the biggest basketball program in Louisiana, and Louisiana is only a basketball state when there’s a winner to rally around. If the Tigers are going to sell out the Pete Maravich Assembly Center this season, they must be better than 2-14 in conference play.

They’ll have to be watchable.

“We certainly need to grow the basketball element in our fan base,” Wade said. “The best way to do that initially is to go out and meet people. Then we’ve got to win. At the end of the day you’ve got to win. All this stuff is nice, but if you don’t win nobody cares. Nobody likes to be associated with a loser. That’s a fact.”

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