Basketball courts

Scott Rabalais: Football-mad LSU rediscovers success on the basketball courts | USL

As the Kentucky Wildcats experienced the rare and exhilarating rush to hammer LSU’s football jam in October, some of their Commonwealth Stadium fans picked a friend of mine from the stands in his LSU gear.

As the UK fans listened to my friend, he stopped them in their tracks saying, “Just wait for basketball season.”

It’s still too early for LSU’s men’s and women’s basketball teams in these pre-Christmas days. NCAA tournament offers are still on the Tigers’ wishlists (in case you haven’t noticed, both teams are now Tigers, as LSU dropped the “Lady” from its women’s teams that previously wore this designation).

LSU’s women’s basketball team moved up two spots to 22nd in the Associated Press rankings released Monday.

But unless NCAA law enforcement arrives and takes over the men’s basketball program, it looks like Brian Kelly has another job to do to rebuild football culture at LSU:

He is a coach in what looks more and more like a basketball school.

Both basketball teams made modest jumps Monday in Associated Press polls. The men’s team (9-0) moved up six spots to 19th place but was still only fifth of the nation’s remaining unbeaten seven as of Monday. The women’s team (7-1) moved up two places to 22nd place.

More than that, LSU teams receive gifts from the NCAA’s leading metrics and bracketology experts. The men’s team was No. 3 on Monday in the NET rankings that the NCAA selection committee uses to help seed the 68-team field. ESPN men’s bracketologist Joe Lunardi had LSU as the No. 5 seed in his most recent showings Friday, but tweeted an image of how the tournament would be seeded Monday with the Tigers on the 3rd row.

LSU basketball team surges in polls;  Tigers undefeated until No. 19 in AP, 20th in coaches

After entering the Associated Press poll at No. 25 a week ago, LSU’s men’s basketball team has taken a significant step up the new Monda rankings…

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On the women’s side, ESPN’s Charlie Crème also had LSU firmly in the field Friday as the rising No. 9 seed. That’s roughly in line with the team’s No. 31 NET ranking on Monday. Just two projections ago, he had Kim Mulkey’s team as one of the final four teams in the NCAA Tournament, which will also grow to 68 teams in 2022.

Mulkey praised his team’s quick guard, and rightly so. But it was his drive and determination that got LSU to this point, already two wins away from matching the Tigers’ win total for all of last season under former coach Nikki Fargas. Yes, LSU has an All-Southeastern Conference-caliber point guard in Khayla Pointer and plenty of size in the paint. But Mulkey pushes him forward. On Sunday, with her team up 30 points in an eventual 96-55 win over Texas Southern, she worked so hard for a call you’d think it was a draw with two minutes left in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA.

How far can Mulkey’s team go in their first season? An NCAA offer now looks like a reasonable expectation. Beyond that it will be lagniappe.

“It’s pretty exciting to be in right now,” said center Hannah Gusters, a former five-star prospect who came with Mulkey from Baylor.

On the men’s side, Will Wade’s side have one glaring missing piece: consistent outside shooting. This was covered by the transfer of Illinois shooting guard Adam Miller, but he was lost for the season due to a knee injury in October.

Miller probably wouldn’t have been what Cam Thomas was to last year’s LSU team when he led all NCAA freshmen in scoring. But he probably would have given the Tigers 16 to 18 regular points per game. Along with him are those at LSU who believe the Tigers would have separated themselves from the pack and won the SEC this season. Without him, LSU is still great, especially because the Tigers are cracking down on Wade’s defense for the first time in five seasons in Baton Rouge. Saturday’s 69-53 against Georgia Tech in Atlanta marked the seventh time LSU has held an opponent to 60 points or less. One of the two times the Tigers failed was in a 68-63 overtime win over Penn State.

The NCAA has gone overtime in its investigation of Wade and LSU basketball. While anything could still happen, based on results from other long-investigated SEC schools like Auburn and South Carolina and the attitude coming from the LSU campus, it seems to increasingly likely that Wade will weather the storm the NCAA has in store for the program. The growing feeling is that this team, which has a chance to become its best at LSU, could just be the start of a strong run over the next two or three seasons. And we certainly expect Mulkey to be able to find his program in the Final Four in the same time frame.

The SEC rivals are certainly watching, wondering if the good old days return for LSU’s basketball teams.