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GAMETHREAD: No. 10 LSU vs. Vanderbilt, 7:30 P.M., SEC Network

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Tigers try to clinch SEC Championship amid controversy

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

By now you’ve heard about the storm clouds surrounding the LSU basketball program that proved to be too scary for the administration to handle.

Yesterday LSU suspended head basketball coach Will Wade amid an impermissible benefits Yahoo report and today it was announced the program will also keep Javonte Smart, the player assumed to be discussed in the FBI wiretap, away from the PMAC. Sitting Smart is, as LSU phrased it, an “abundance of caution.”

As dramatic as things are at the moment, life does have to carry on for the Tigers. Will Wade is out for now and assistant Tony Benford is in as the interim head coach. No Smart means LSU will have to change their backcourt rotation, expect more minutes for Marlon Taylor and perhaps even some Marshall Graves.

The good news for LSU is, if there was ever a team to play amidst all the mess it’s definitely Vanderbilt at home.

Vanderbilt is as bad as it gets among Power Five teams in basketball. The Commodores are 9-20 overall and winless in league play. Getting an 0-17 SEC team at home, at night, with a sold out crowd full of pissed off people is as ideal as it gets for LSU and if the Tigers don’t beat the Commodores by 40 it’s a disappointment.

Thanks to Tennessee dropping the regular season finale to Auburn, LSU has already clinched a share of the SEC regular season and the 1-seed in the conference tournament. If the Tigers win tonight, they’re the outright regular season champions. If they lose, they’re co-champions. If LSU needed any extra incentive to complete Vanderbilt’s 0-18 SEC record, Auburn just served it up.

Just as LSU will be without a point guard, so too will Vanderbilt. Darius Garland withdrew from school in January after tearing the meniscus in his left knee in November. Garland’s expected to be a lottery pick in the upcoming draft and is in the race with Murray State’s Ja Morant to be the first point guard selected in June. Despite only playing in five games, Garland is still Vanderbilt’s leading scorer at 16 points a game and shot 47 percent from three.

But Garland and his 16 points a game average will not be available to the Commodores. Instead they’ll have to rely on the likes of Saben Lee, 12 points per game, and Simisola Shittu and Aaron Nesmith, both averaging 11 points, for whatever limited offense they have. Vanderbilt is 11th in the conference in scoring, last in shooting from the floor, 13th in three-point shooting and 12th in free throw percentage.

Vanderbilt’s been close a few times to getting a conference win, but haven’t yet pulled off the feat. The Commodores have lost by single digits five times and even took Tennessee to overtime when the two met in Nashville. But the last time Vanderbilt took the court, they got blown out by Arkansas 84-48 on Senior Night so maybe they’ve checked out.

Even though LSU is in the crosshairs of the national media, the NCAA and the FBI, and the Tigers will be without their coach and backup point guard for the forseeable future, Saturday has all the potential to be a good day in Baton Rouge. LSU’s already co-champs of the SEC, and are one win against a terrible Vanderbilt team from being outright champions in a year they weren’t expected to be. Saturday will be the last time this team takes the PMAC court. Come celebrate that. Thank Kavell Bigby-Williams on his senior night, wish Naz Reid the best if he does decide to go the NBA. Come show this program that no matter what, you’ve got their backs. It’s more than the current administration can say.

Let’s beat the hell out of Vanderbilt, drop the SEC Champions banner, cut down the nets and win this one for our coach.