Call ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi crazy, but he's feeling pretty good about LSU basketball's chances of making the NCAA tournament.
And his strong feelings should make Tiger fans feel pretty good too since the St. Joseph's University administrator is the sport's best bracket prognosticator.
"I must be the lunatic, I guess," Lunardi joked when referencing his LSU prediction in an interview Tuesday on After Further Review on 104.5/104.9 FM ESPN in Baton Rouge.
In his latest tournament bracket prediction, Lunardi has the Tigers (16-9, 9-3 Southeastern Conference) as a 7-seed -- a projection fans and fellow bracketologists disagree with given LSU's slow start to the season. After all, LSU lost five non-conference games in November and December, punctuated by an ugly, double-digit loss at Charleston. Those five losses -- even without injured starters Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor -- are only "minor chips LSU can cash" come tournament selection time, he said.
"I think folks are fixating on LSU's RPI (70) -- which is negative -- and they're missing the point of the fact that this is the co-leader of the SEC," Lunardi said. "I guarantee you that if LSU finishes the regular season at the top or tied for first in the SEC, they will go to the NCAA tournament (even) if their RPI is 100 because they'll have won something significant in the eyes of the (selection) committee."
So what does ESPN's bracket wizard think LSU must do to keep its current seed -- or move up? "Keep beating NCAA (tournament)-level teams in the SEC."
The Tigers will have a shot to do just that Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the Maravich Center when they host Alabama, a surging squad sitting squarely on the tournament bubble.
Besides Bama standing in the way of LSU remaining in first place in the SEC and keeping pace with co-leader Kentucky are road games at Tennessee, Arkansas and Kentucky, mixed with home games against Florida and Missouri. Of those opponents, Kentucky and Florida are tournament-worthy while Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri simply serve as potential potholes in LSU's road to the tournament.
If LSU finishes as the outright or co-regular season SEC champion, Lunardi guaranteed the Tigers would make the tournament as a single-digit seed.
"Mark my word," he said.