Sanctions are coming, Will Wade is gone, and the Tigers aren’t sticking around to find out what it looks like. LSU basketball might not be receiving the death penalty from the NCAA for their former coach’s infractions, but the team itself has sent the program into a virtual death spiral.
With the departure of sophomore Mwani Wilkinson, every single scholarship member of the 2021-22 LSU men’s basketball team is gone, declaring their intention to enter the NBA draft or brave the ever-filling transfer portal. In the weeks after Wade’s firing, the roster emptied one by one, with 10 of the 12 scholarship players opting to try to play elsewhere in the NCAA and two going pro. The only roster members remaining in the carnage are four walk-ons.
The Tigers, often middling in their conference, ended up fifth in the SEC this year before dropping a first round tournament game to Iowa State under an interim coach. Newly hired HC Matt McMahon, who has coached mid-major Murray State for the past seven years, will have the unique challenge of building a program essentially from the ground up — honestly, he’ll be building from the basement up, as LSU also lost the commitment of all of its 2022 recruits following Wade’s departure, as well as their single committed 2023 recruit. Ground level is too generous a term.
Now less than two weeks out, national signing day quickly approaches, and McMahon’s hands are practically empty at the moment. Oklahoma State, another program implicated in the FBI probe, lost postseason eligibility one year, and you can’t blame the incoming kids for seeing what’s right in front of them.
The good news for McMahon is that the ease with which his current players are entering the transfer portal will go the other way, and he may be able to pick up some experienced upperclassmen from the portal to fill out a roster that has tumbleweeds rolling through it at the moment, and reportedly already has convinced several of his former Murray State players to transfer to LSU. But there’s no escaping the seven Level I violations that the NCAA is still investigating against the men’s basketball program after Wade allegedly paid recruits and their families as an incentive to enroll.
This is an unprecedented mass departure, effectively a self-inflicted penalty decided by the players and made manifest by their actions. The players are looking out for themselves and using the autonomy and freedoms granted by the transfer portal’s relaxed rules — as they ought to be. And they’re also punishing LSU to a level that even NCAA sanctions might not be able to replicate. You can come back from a postseason ban or a $10k fine, but coming back from something like this? Good luck to Matt McMahon — he’s going to need it.