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Wednesday’s Things to Know: Buckeye guards star; Marquette rallies; LSU loses to VCU

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There were top-25 teams in action, the Gavitt Games rolled on and there was something of an awkward homecoming in Richmond.

Here are the most important things you need to know from the action around the country Wednesday.

Ohio State’s guards can elevate the Buckeyes

When we talk about Ohio State, we inevitably start with the Buckeyes’ frontcourt. And with good reason. Kaleb Wesson is a hulking 6-foot-9, 270-pound throwback double-double machine. He’s the type of player we just don’t see as often anymore up front, and as such, few teams have a true counter for him.

What we saw Wednesday in the Buckeyes’ 76-51 dismantling of Villanova, though, was that Chris Holtmann’s guards might hold the key to success in Columbus this season. If nothing else, they certainly opened a lot of eyes against the Wildcats.

Duane Washington Jr (14), Luther Muhammad (11), D.J. Carter (11) and CJ Walker (10) all scored in double-figures while Walker had seven assists, Washington had five rebounds and Carton had five rebounds and five assists. That’s on top of Wesson doing Wesson things like recording 10 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and three assists.

If the Buckeyes’ guards can give them this kind of production, it’s really not much of a leap to consider this team a serious threat to Michigan State in the Big Ten, and maybe even a bigger contender nationally than we’ve given them credit for this preseason. The team that took apart Villanova on Wednesday night looked like a team that could make it to Atlanta in April. It was that complete a performance.

It’s easy to draw a line from this Ohio State performance against Villanova to Michigan’s last year against Jay Wright’s team, which took a 27-point L to John Beilein last November. The ‘Cats ultimately bounced back and found their stride, but that lopsided result probably said more about how good that Wolverines team was as they eventually went on to secure a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament.

Can the Buckeyes replicate that path? That question is probably best answered with another – can their guards replicate the night they had against Villanova?

Marquette erases 18-point deficit to beat Purdue

Marquette is one of the country’s biggest question marks. There were a few fleeting moments last spring when they looked like a national title contender when Markus Howard decided to return to school, but the Golden Eagles were flung into the “mystery” category after the Hauser brothers decided to bolt, leaving Marquette with an interesting albeit uncertain roster.

Steve Wojciechowski’s team looked like it answered some questions Wednesday, coming from 18 behind to defeat Purdue, 65-55, in Milwaukee.

Howard was his dynamic self with 18 points, four rebounds and three assists on 6 of 12 shooting, but it was the play of Kobe McEwen that is perhaps the most promising. The Utah State transfer went for 23 points, five rebounds, four assists and a steal to help Marquette claw back and win the game.

Marquette needs McEwen to be that productive this season as an offensive second option as defenses do everything they can to try to bottle up Howard. If McEwen can not only be a viable No. 2 but make teams truly pay for throwing the kitchen sink at Howard defensively, Marquette can be closer to that upper-echelon Big East team we thought they might be last spring rather than the enigma they became this summer.

Purdue, meanwhile, saw its offense implode, shooting 33.9 percent from the floor and 25 percent from 3-point range. Given the departures from last year’s team, offense is understandably a work in progress, though that progression looked stalled in a second half in which Matt Painter’s team scored just 17 points – while buckling defensively, giving up 40 to Marquette.

Will Wade loses to his former school

As a program that sends many of its coaches on to bigger stages and brighter lights, VCU has figured out quite a few ways to make their status as a stepping stone to their advantage. First off, it’s an attractive job for talented coaches because of the track record. A smaller, but interesting, way the Rams have maneuvered is to work into the coaches’ contract that if they leave for another gig, they have to bring that team back to Richmond.

That’s why LSU and Will Wade were in town Wednesday, taking a 84-82 loss. If they hadn’t, Wade would have owed VCU $250,000.

That bit of info turned out to be at least a little funny, given that a few VCU students dressed up as FBI agents as an allusion to reports that Wade was caught on a wiretap discussing a “strong-ass offer” to a recruit as part of the federal government’s investigation into corruption into college basketball.

Here’s guessing Wade and LSU get plenty of this treatment throughout the season, though it’s probably worth noting the Tigers made it to the Sweet 16 last year amid the controversy and Wade hasn’t missed a beat on the recruiting trail – they inked five-star Trendon Watford last May – so whatever lingering controversy there may be probably isn’t going to be too bothersome to them.

LSU returning four of six players who entered NBA draft process

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LSU will still have a talented roster available for next season despite six players declaring early for the 2019 NBA Draft process earlier this offseason.

Point guard Tremont Waters and big man Naz Reid are both staying in the draft. And replacing those two would be tough for anybody. But the Tigers are expected to return guards Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays and Marlon Taylor while freshman big man Emmitt Williams will also be back for next season.

Considering where LSU was a month ago — with a suspended head coach and potentially six players leaving early — and things are looking a lot better for the 2019-20 season.

It’s a distinct possibility that all four of those returning players will make up most of LSU’s starting lineup for next season as the program also brings in a five-star forward in Trendon Watford and an intriguing sophomore forward in Darius Days.

Williams could be the key for LSU’s success next season. While the Tigers know what to expect from Smart and Mays, Williams and his high-motor style will have to replace the imposing size and skill of Reid on the interior.

Taylor will also have to step up his play, particularly his scoring, for next season, but if Williams can become a double-double threat and protect the rim then LSU should be in position to return to the NCAA tournament while remaining competitive in the SEC.

Now that Will Wade is reinstated as head coach and much of a conference title-winning core is back, things are looking up for the Tigers are an up-and-down spring.

LSU coach Will Wade avoids tough questions in first time talking to media since March

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LSU head coach Will Wade spoke publicly with reporters on Tuesday. — the first time since last March when he was suspended amid a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the FBI’s college basketball corruption case.

With LSU in the midst of an SEC regular-season title campaign, Wade was suspended indefinitely by LSU after Yahoo Sports and ESPN reported on leaked wiretapped phone conversations between Wade and convicted former runner Christian Dawkins. During their wiretapped discussion, the duo discuss “the Smart thing” and a “strong-ass offer” — which many interpreted as being about Tigers freshman guard Javonte Smart, a highly-recruited McDonald’s All-American.

Wade missed the LSU postseason run as Tony Benford was interim coach through the Sweet 16. Later reinstated last month, Wade has already landed a five-star prospect in Trendon Watford for next season while Smart and fellow guard Skylar Mays announced their return to school next year after testing the NBA Draft process.

Dancing around direct questions involving the “strong-ass offer” Wade told reporters on Tuesday that he “can’t get into the specifics of everything.” Wade was speaking at the SEC Spring Meetings as he took a podium to answer questions for nearly 16 minutes.

“Eventually, as we move forward from this, I want to get a point where we have full disclosure,” Wade said on Tuesday. “… We’re not at that point right now.”

Wade was also asked various questions about LSU players accepting money from agents or coaches to which he replied, “Everything you can think of was addressed in the meeting with LSU and the NCAA.”

“Obviously this has been a difficult couple of months for LSU and the basketball program,” Wade said. “As the leader, I’m here today to start the process of rebuilding trust.”

While Wade is out to rebuild his personal reputation while maintaining the strong success he’s built with the Tigers, this media sessions is going to leave a lot of people skeptical about what really happened with potential offers to players like Smart and Naz Reid — who was mentioned during the FBI college basketball corruption trial.

Wade doesn’t have to answer these questions truthfully since he’s not in court under the threat of perjury, but his public perception is going to take a long time to repair — if it is ever repaired at all.

Regardless of what Wade says to the media, he has another talented roster that should factor in the SEC title equation this season as he continues to recruit at a high level despite the allegations and suspension.

(H/t: Pat Forde, Yahoo SportsThe Advocate)

Five-star forward Trendon Watford commits to LSU

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Whatever issues have dogged LSU coach Will Wade over the last few months, they aren’t enough to keep him from landing another five-star recruit.

Trendon Watford, a top-25 forward in 2019, committed to Wade and the Tigers in an Monday afternoon announcement.

“It’s the trust,” he said of his pick of the Tigers, according to AL.com, “the trust I have with those coaches and them helping me reach my potential.”

Watford said he had been leaning towards heading to Baton Rouge, but retreated from that stance when Wade was suspended by LSU after reports surfaced about federal wiretaps featuring Wade discussing making a “strong-ass offer” for a recruit. Former Arizona assistant Book Richardson was also on wiretap discussing Wade, recruit Naz Reid and $300,000. Ultimately, though, LSU has stood by him as it reinstated him from suspension.

“When all that was going on it was definitely a pause in my recruitment,” Watford told 247Sports. “Before that I was going to commit to LSU during the McDonald’s game and that happened so we postponed. He still contacted me throughout that time and would tell me what was up. When he got reinstated they got pushed back to the top.”

Ultimately, the Tigers are landing one of the top players that were left on the board this spring, a 6-foot-9 forward that was also considering Alabama, Memphis and Indiana, where his brother Christian played. He joins James Bishop, a top-150 guard from Maryland, and junior college transfer guard Charles Manning in Wade’s 2019 class. It would also seem there is little immediate concern, at least by Watford, that the NCAA might soon find wrongdoing that was suggested by the evidence and testimony to come out the federal investigation into college hoops.

Federal corruption trial continues to shine light on college basketball’s underground economy

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The federal trial of middleman Christian Dawkins and former shoe company executive Merl Code rolled along Monday, and it continued to be problematic for the sport of college basketball.

The start of the trial’s second week featured wiretaps and testimony that continued to paint the portrait of an underground industry in the sport featuring big-dollar payoffs, monthly retainers and routine violations of NCAA rules.

Cooperating witness Munish Sood testified that former Arizona assistant Emanuel ‘Book’ Richardson accepted $20,000 in bribes while pushing players toward Dawkins and his associates, according to CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander. Richardson, who pleaded guilty to charges earlier this year, said on a wiretap that LSU coach Will Wade spoke to him about a job as both were recruiting Naz Reid, and that Wade “got $300,000” to facilitate Reid to LSU.

“I said listen, (expletive), give me half that and I’ll make sure he goes there,” Richardson said on the wiretap.

Reid ultimately did attend LSU, and has declared for the NBA draft after one season in Baton Rouge. Wade has been a frequent presence in the federal investigation into college basketball corruption, with Yahoo Sports reporting previously that he was on a wiretap saying he had made a “strong-ass offer” for recruit Javonte Smart as well as discussing a deal for prospect Balsa Koprivica. Wade was suspended to end the  season by LSU, but was recently reinstated by the school. How Monday’s revelations in court might impact his status with the school – and the NCAA – remains to be seen.

Richardson and Sood met in a Las Vegas lounge in 2017 to discuss access to players, Sood testified.

“I believe he was saying if we were helping him to recruit, he was going to deliver one or two players for us,” Sood said Monday.

Sood also testified that Richardson took $15,000 to assist in the recruitment of Jahvon Quinerly, who committed to Arizona before flipping to Villanova after details of the federal investigation became public in the fall of 2017, per CBS Sports.

“I believe payment was for Emmanuel Richardson to recruit a specific player,” Sood testified.

Dawkins says on a wiretap that Richardson was receiving $4,000 a month, “and that makes sense to give him four grand a month because he’s got the No. 1 pick, he’s got — every year they got a top-10 pick,” he said.

The trial continues Tuesday, when it would seem certain even more of the sport’s dirty laundry will be on display.

Report: Will Wade, LSU finally scheduled to meet

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LSU and suspended head coach Will Wade are finally scheduled to meet to discuss Wade’s status with the school.

According to a report from Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated, Wade and the school will meet on Friday as a potential reinstatement will be a topic of discussion.

Suspended since March 8, Wade missed LSU’s regular-season finale and postseason run to the Sweet 16 as assistant coach Tony Benford took over the team. LSU made the move to suspend Wade after his alleged involvement with runner and convicted felon Christian Dawkins as the two are allegedly caught on a wiretapped conversation discussing a potential offer to a recruit believed to be Tigers freshman guard Javonte Smart.

Wade’s swift suspension was met with some criticism within the LSU fanbase as the Tigers were in the midst of a special season that included an SEC regular-season title and run into the NCAA tournament’s second weekend. After a stalemate the past month, the two sides meeting represents progress during a tense situation in which there has been little movement over the past few weeks.

It’s hard to say what this meeting will entail, as just last Friday, federal prosecutors filed a motion asking a judge to prevent Wade from testifying in one of the upcoming bribery trials in the FBI’s investigation.