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Men’s basketball: a chat with a Louisiana journalist about the MSU vs LSU match-up

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Bradley vs Michigan State Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

What is this thing?

Hey gang, one of my college buddies - Bryn Stole - is a journalist working down in Louisiana so I figured I would ping him about the MSU vs LSU match-up and to get his take and thoughts on LSU, the Wade situation, etc. His bosses gave the OK, so I asked some questions and he gave some answers! Bryn is a great guy and a great reporter, if you’re interested in reading more of his stuff or following the Wade story as it develops you can follow him at: @brynstole on twitter.

Here is the little Q/A chat that we had:

Sam: Bryn, tell the people (the MSU fans who zealously follow this site) who you are!

Bryn: I’m an investigative reporter for The Advocate currently splitting time between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. I’ve worked for The Advocate for about four years now. Until last month, I was the newspaper’s Washington correspondent and, before that, worked as a crime reporter for the paper up in Baton Rouge. [Bryn is too humble to brag, but he has had stuff picked up by multiple national newspapers/publications too]

Sam: So you work for the Advocate, what have you been working on these days?

Bryn: For the past month, I’ve been pretty closely covering Will Wade’s entanglement in the federal hoops corruption case. I’d started working on some stories about it — reviewing court transcripts, filing public records requests, that sort of thing — just before Yahoo! Sports and ESPN dropped their big bombshell reports on Wade’s wiretapped discussion of (presumably) Javonte Smart’s recruitment. I’ve been teamed up with our LSU basketball beat reporter Sheldon Mickles, who’s covered sports down here for a long time and is more focused on the team and their on-court performance.

Sam: Interesting! Give us the news on the Will Wade situation, can you offer us a guess as to how that will turn out, or is that taboo?

Bryn: Probably not quite as familiar as the FBI but I’ve been working on it pretty much full-time for the past month. As far as how things end, I think there are a lot of moving parts and total unknowns at this point. We’re expecting Wade to get subpoenaed by to testify at a late-April federal trial by defense lawyers for Christian Dawkins, the hustler and sports-agent runner from Saginaw who ended up right in the middle of this federal case. Dawkins’ attorney wants to stick Wade on the stand to air out what they argue is the entire sordid underbelly of college basketball recruiting because the federal criminal charges would sort of fall apart if they can prove that head coaches and university administrators were OK with the payments Dawkins and his co-defendants, executives at Adidas, were funneling to recruits’ relatives.

What will come out of this trial? We don’t really know yet. There could be more FBI wiretaps of Wade — or maybe we’ve already seen the juiciest bits. Wade might end up testifying — but we don’t know yet. I’d assume his attorney will try to quash the subpoena and, even if he ends up on the stand, there’s a chance he’ll plead the 5th instead of answering potentially incriminating questions about payoffs.

As far as how the NCAA will treat this, that’s another big question I don’t have much of an answer to right now. Remember, LSU is hardly the only program caught up in this. There were payoffs to big-time recruits at Kansas and NC State. Louisivlle was very much tied up in this (and Rick Pitino, after surviving so-called ‘Strippergate,’ got fired over it). Tugs Bowen, the Saginaw kid whose recruitment was a big focus of an October federal trial, allegedly got big cash offers from places like Arizona, Oklahoma State, Creighton. Zion Williamson, the biggest star in the game right now, allegedly had handlers or relatives out soliciting money during his recruiting. And assistants at Arizona, Oklahoma State, Auburn and USC were arrested for allegedly taking bribes.

How the NCAA comes down on this, especially when so many of its programs, we’re talking 25-50, including some really high-profile schools, are caught up in this. Does it bring down the hammer on everyone? Do they single out a few of the worst offenders or give everyone a slap on the wrist? I don’t know the answer to that. And I also don’t know how much more of the evidence the FBI gathered we’re going to see in court or the NCAA is going to be able to get their hands on. The big issue for LSU is that Wade, their indefinitely suspended head coach, is personally on these wiretaps. At a lot of these other schools, it appears the alleged payments were handled by shoe companies or assistants.

Sam: And what are folks around New Orleans/Baton Rouge saying about the whole situation?

Bryn: A lot of LSU fans are pissed at the NCAA and they’re pissed at the university for suspending Wade. Look, LSU is first and foremost a football school, but Wade’s teams had really caught fire. They’re winning and having their best season at least since Big Baby took them to the Final Four a decade ago. And LSU fans are a really pugnacious, in-your-face bunch and Wade is very much that kind of personality. So your average fans and the guys on sports talk radio, not many of them are scandalized by Wade allegedly paying off recruits’ families. They’re pissed at the NCAA and Joe Alleva, LSU’s athletic director, for yanking Wade from the bench.

Sam: What is your take on the team - I know you don’t cover them, but what is the chatter? Have you watched them at all?

Bryn: Yeah, I’ve watched a lot of their games. It’s a really exciting team and they’ve got a ton of talent. Tremont Waters is a great point guard and they’ve got a star big man in Naz Reid. If you look at their record, I think it’s a bit up and down. They didn’t play a particularly tough nonconference schedule, got blown out by a bad Oklahoma State team, dropped games to Florida State and Houston. But they really tore through the SEC, went to Lexington and beat Kentucky, knocked off Tennessee and won a lot of thrilling nail-biters. It’s been fun to watch them. They play with some swagger, some style, it’s almost always close and they’ve usually come out on top.

Sam: And what are your basketball bona fides? Where do your loyalties lie?

Bryn: I’ve been living down in Louisiana for a while and so have been following the Tigers out of convenience. I went to a bunch of games when I was living in Baton Rouge, saw Ben Simmons in a really disappointing season for the Tigers. But I’m really a pretty die-hard Illinois basketball fan from birth. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced as much joy as a sports fan as I did watching that 2004-2005 Illini team with Dee Brown, Deron Williams, Luther Head, Roger Powell. I cried when North Carolina knocked them off in the final. The last few years have been pretty rough on that front.

Sam: That’s right folks... he’s one of those... anyways, what is your take on the match-up? What will you be paying attention to?

Bryn: I think on paper, Michigan State has to be the favorite. They’re a really, really good team with a lot of experience and Izzo is one of the all-time greats. They survived the grind in the Big 10 which — and I know folks down here might disagree — is a much tougher basketball conference, top-to-bottom, than the SEC. LSU’s coming into this with an interim coach and a big cloud over the program. Maybe that’s motivating, I don’t know, but they have hardly been dominant. They eked it out against Maryland, which is a really tough team, but Maryland finished fifth in the Big 10 and Michigan State took them apart in the regular season. Then you look at LSU, who won out in a very top-heavy SEC. They picked up a couple of big wins against Kentucky and Tennessee, true, but they also dropped 2 of 3 to Florida, lost to Arkansas.

That said, LSU’s got some swagger and they’ve got some great young talent Naz Reid, who’s probably an NBA first-rounder this year and can dominate a game, in Tremont Waters, who’s probably undersized for a pro but is a great college point guard, and Javonte Smart, who’s shown some real flashes as a freshman. If those guys show up, especially Reid, they could really take it to the Spartans. LSU hasn’t let teams get away from them, they play everyone close. They’ve only lost two games by more than five points this season, a 6-point loss on the road to a very good Houston team back in December and by 13 to Oklahoma State all the way back in November. If the Tigers can keep it close against Michigan State to the end, who knows?

I think it’ll be a competitive, entertaining game. I’d probably take LSU to cover the spread — I think it’s what, 6 points right now? — but the Spartans are better coached, more experienced and probably have the better shot at coming out on top.

Sam: Got a prediction?

Bryn: MSU wins, 79-76 in OT!

Sam: Thanks buddy, keep up the great work, and fear not, Underwood is a good coach who now has a second good recruiting class in a row coming. Illinois will be better next year!

Bryn: Thanks man, here’s hopin’. I’ll be watching!

Make sure to check out our full statistical breakdown of the MSU vs LSU match-up!