Busting Brackets

NCAA Basketball: How Coach Will Wade has built a powerhouse at McNeese State

Former LSU Head Coach, Will Wade, is still recruiting as if he's coaching at a high major program
McNeese v Gonzaga
McNeese v Gonzaga / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

Will Wade is building something special down in Lake Charles, Louisiana. In fact, it appears that he is going to accomplish something that hasn’t been done in a decade. When looking at KenPom numbers, Will Wade’s success at McNeese is similar to that of Brad Underwood’s Stephen F. Austin teams, who went on a three year span of going 89-14 overall and 53-1 in Southland play. Taking a team from the Southland conference to historical precedence is rare, which is how Underwood ended up parlaying his success with Stephen F. Austin into the Illinois job. But Will Wade, with his high major coaching pedigree, is recruiting as if he’s still coaching in the SEC. 

The Southland has been a bottom-six conference nationally according to KenPom’s AdjEM each of the past seven years. As a result, the Southland conference would qualify as a low-major conference, if there was such a definition. For purposes of this article, the bottom five conferences each season are what qualified as “low majors” that particular season. With that said, looking at how good of a two-year stretch that Wade and McNeese will likely have by the season’s end should be close to unprecedented. Wade not only sat out this coaching carousel where there was a hectic amount of movement among high major teams, but he even signed a contract extension with McNeese earlier last year. 

From a historical perspective, McNeese finished 67th in KenPom last season while playing in a bottom-five conference. Aside from the Underwood’s Lumberjacks' three-year stretch at Stephen F. Austin, the closest precedent we have to that is Bucknell in 2006, who finished 58th in KenPom in the Patriot League. To give more clarity on how historic Will Wade is doing at McNeese, he took the program from 335th in KenPom to 67th. In fact, the last time McNeese finished within the top 275 in KenPom was in 2012. Not only was last year’s 30-4 (17-1 in conference) record shattering the most wins in program history by a whopping eight games, but this year’s McNeese squad should be even better than last year’s team. 

Wade had success with high major castaways like TCU transfer, Shahada Wells, but Wade has an even better recruiting class than last year. Wade retains three of his top four scorers from last year’s March Madness tournament team. In total, he’s bringing back 56% of last season’s minutes and 53% of their scoring, in addition to adding St. Louis leading scorer, Sincere Parker, Syracuse’s Quadir Copeland, and former top 100 recruit, Brandon Murray. Murray played under Wade his freshman season at LSU before Wade was fired for committing NCAA infractions and recruiting violations.

Wade also added Bryant Selebangue from Arizona State as well as Joe Charles from Louisiana. 247sports ranks McNeese’s transfer class as the 39th best in the nation. As this Kevin Sweeney tweet indicates, McNeese may even have a fun competition amongst their roster for Southland Player of the Year. 

While McNeese’s non-conference schedule has yet to be released, it’ll be difficult for their program to schedule high major games after AD’s witnessed McNeese beat the likes of VCU, UAB, and Michigan last season. However, McNeese also had to settle for buy games against non-division one opponents like Biblical Studies and Mississippi University for Women.

It was reported that McNeese will play Mississippi State in a neutral site game and a game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa this season, but otherwise, it’s unknown whether their schedule will be strong enough to earn them an at-large bid in March Madness in the event they don’t win their conference tournament. The lack of quality opponents will also impact their seeding in the likely event they do go dancing. However, in terms of talent, this is a borderline top-25 caliber roster that could compete with some high-major programs.

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It shouldn’t be long until Wade is a recruiting force and impact coach in a major conference again if he so chooses.