LSU will open its second SEC Tournament in three years just after an NCAA investigation news drop.
The No. 5 seed Tigers (21-10, 9-9) play No. 12 seed Missouri (12-20, 5-13) at approximately 2:30 p.m. eastern time Thursday at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, on the SEC Network, which will be televising all games Thursday.
Relive “The Best SEC Tournament Ever”
The tournament opens Thursday at noon with No. 8 seed Texas A&M (20-11, 9-9) playing No. 9 seed Florida (19-12, 9-9) as each try to stay alive on the NCAA Tournament bubble. LSU and Missouri will follow 25 minutes after the end of that game.
Missouri eliminated No. 13 seed Ole Miss (13-19, 4-14) with a 72-60 victory on Wednesday night to open the tournament. No. 11 seed Vanderbilt beat No. 14 seed Georgia, 86-51, in the late game Wednesday with its 35-point win the fifth most lopsited in SEC Tournament history.
The Commodores (16-15, 7-11), who got 14 points from guard Scotty Pippen Jr., will play No. 6 seed Alabama (19-12, 9-9) at about 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Georgia fell to 6-26 after a 1-17 SEC mark, and coach Tom Crean is not expected to be retained.
No. 10 seed Mississippi State (17-14, 8-10) plays No. 7 seed South Carolina (18-12, 9-9) at 6 p.m. Thursday.
SEC Network cameras kept showing LSU coach Will Wade watching toward the end of the Missouri-Ole Miss game as the announcers discussed his plight. LSU received the Notice of Allegations from the NCAA on Tuesday concerning an investigation of Wade’s recruiting practices that began in 2019.
A major part of the investigation has centered on former guard Javonte Smart, whom Wade says he made a “strong-ass offer” to on FBI wiretap in 2017 when Smart was at Scotlandville High in Baton Rouge.
LSU suspended Wade on March 8, 2019, for not cooperating with the NCAA’s or LSU’s own subsequent investigation, and he did not attend his team’s SEC Tournament opener against Florida at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, where Wade grew up. The Tigers, who won the SEC regular-season title that season at 16-2, and interim coach Tony Benford lost 76-73 to No. 8 seed Florida. Wade remained suspended through the end of the season.
LSU regrouped under Benford, who was a Wade assistant at LSU from 2017 through 2019, as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and beat Yale and Maryland before losing to No. 2 seed Michigan State, 80-63, in the Sweet 16. Wade was reinstated after the season, and Benford left to become an assistant at TCU, where he remains.
Wade remains with the Tigers for this SEC Tournament as he has cooperated with NCAA investigators, who interviewed him and an assistant coach last November. Wade has not yet commented on LSU receiving the Notice of Allegations.
“We’re playing a lot closer to how we were earlier in the season,” Wade said Tuesday at a scheduled press conference shortly before SI.com broke the story that LSU had received the Notice of Allegations. “And so we want to keep that going.”
LSU started the season 15-1 overall and 3-1 in the SEC in early January. The Tigers won two of their last three games, including an 80-77 victory over No. 25 Alabama on Saturday in overtime to finish .500 in the league.
The Tigers will be trying to win their first SEC Tournament since 1980. As the NCAA investigation dragged on last year at this time without a news drop, Wade led the Tigers to the SEC Tournament championship game in Nashville. LSU beat Ole Miss and Arkansas to reach its first final since 1993, but it lost 80-79 to Alabama in a thriller.
“There’s still some stuff we’ve got to get corrected,” Wade said. “But we are certainly playing better.”
LSU defeated Missouri 75-55 in Baton Rouge on Feb. 26 as the Tigers forced 19 turnovers, and LSU forward Tari Eason scored 18 points.
“Their press hurt us,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said after beating Ole Miss. “We have to do a better job taking care of the ball.”
Kobe Brown led Missouri with 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists against the Rebels.
“It’s not over,” Brown said. “It’s win or go home. We have to make everything count.”
The LSU-Missouri winner will advance to a 2:30 p.m. game Friday against No. 4 seed and 15th-ranked Arkansas (24-7, 13-5) on ESPN.
The top four seeds all received double byes to Friday.
No. 1 seed/regular season champion Auburn (27-4, 15-3), which is fourth ranked, plays at noon Friday on ESPN against the Texas A&M-Florida winner. No. 2 seed Tennessee (23-7, 14-4), which is ranked ninth, plays at 6 p.m. on the SEC Network against the Mississippi State-South Carolina winner. No. 3 seed and fifth-ranked Kentucky (25-6, 14-4) plays at about 8:30 p.m. Friday against the Vanderbilt-Alabama winner.