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Talkin’ Out the Side of Your Neck

LSU is one of March’s most exciting teams, but sanctions are likely in the program’s future. Its run through the tournament highlights the central hypocrisy of the NCAA.

Maryland v LSU Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

LSU’s as-of-yet unvacated run through the NCAA tournament will take them to at least the Sweet 16. In what was almost certainly the game of the tournament so far, the Tigers blew a 15-point lead against a resilient Maryland team, but recovered just in time to take down the Terps, 69-67.

LSU is going through the tournament without head coach Will Wade, who is currently suspended after being caught on an FBI wiretap discussing payment for a recruit (apparently freshman point guard Javonte Smart). Wade’s absence became a problem in the second half against Maryland as the Terrapins switched to a 2-3 zone—a defense they almost never played this season—which forced interim head coach Tony Benford to adjust on the fly. For the most part, LSU struggled to counter Maryland’s zone, bricking 3 after 3 and allowing the Terps back into the game. Maryland even took a late lead, but with the game tied in the closing moments, LSU gave the ball to guard Tremont Waters, who ran around the entire defense himself and made the game-winning layup.

It wasn’t technically the first buzzer-beater of the tournament—with 1.6 seconds remaining on the clock when the shot went through, the buzzer didn’t come into play—but after the 32-game first round of the tournament somehow featured zero overtime games or game-winning shots, this was necessary. This was the prototype of a great March Madness game—yes, both teams bricked tons of shots, shooting a combined 45-for-128 from the field (a gross 35.1 percent), but both teams tried really hard and set up a thrilling ending.

That’s ironic, because, at some point, the NCAA will want you to think that LSU is the antithesis of what college basketball stands for. I’ve decided that LSU is my favorite of the teams with a legitimate chance to make the Final Four because anybody with half a conscience understands there’s something seriously wrong with a college athletic system that doesn’t officially pay players. LSU enters the NCAA’s biggest moneymaker under active investigation for the universally accepted, but technically outlawed practice of delivering some of the money reaped from this tournament to one of the players participating in it. LSU broke the rules, but those rules, morally, shouldn’t exist in the first place. No matter what happens to the Tigers in upcoming games, they will likely be punished—Wade may get fired, the program may be sanctioned, and this season will probably be vacated because the team played with Smart, who will, in all likelihood, be ruled ineligible.

Well, if that’s the way this is going to go down, I hope LSU wins the whole damn thing. I’m gonna enjoy the hell out of every game LSU wins, especially because some day, after the NCAA has profited, it will tell us that this run never happened.