With only four games remaining in the regular season, the Southeastern Conference men’s basketball tournament is starting to come into focus.
It is for some teams, anyway.
In a not-so-shocking development, top-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky has officially clinched a double-bye and won’t have to play until the quarterfinals of the March 11-15 tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.
On the other end of the spectrum, Missouri, which has lost 13 consecutive games since topping LSU in overtime in its conference opener on Jan. 8, will be playing on the first day of the tournament when the bottom four seeds fight for the right to play another day.
Almost everything else is in play at this point, even the possibility of LSU having a shot at securing one of the other three double-byes awarded to the top four teams in the final standings.
LSU, which claimed a much-needed 70-63 win over Florida on Saturday in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, is currently tied for fifth with Georgia with 8-6 records.
LSU and Georgia are two games behind Texas A&M and Ole Miss, who are in a third-place tie at 10-4 — just one game behind second-place Arkansas.
The bad news for LSU is Arkansas, A&M and Ole Miss all won Saturday to help those three teams maintain their cushion over their nearest pursuers.
The good news is the Tigers play two of those three teams in the final two weeks of the season.
After visiting Auburn on Tuesday night, LSU will host Ole Miss on Saturday and Tennessee on March 4, then close out the regular season at Arkansas on March 7.
As a result, LSU can finish anywhere from second to 12th in the jumbled-up league even though it’s guaranteed to be penciled in no worse than sixth by winning three of its last four.
Of course, the Tigers are concentrating on the north end of that scenario.
Since the Tigers are three games behind Arkansas with four games remaining, LSU is likely playing for the third or fourth seed even though the 18th-ranked Razorbacks have Texas A&M, Kentucky and LSU in front of them.
Still, with two setbacks against Texas A&M, giving the Aggies the edge in a two-team tiebreaker, the Tigers have a better chance of catching Ole Miss, whom LSU beat in Oxford on Jan. 14.
Martin No. 1
LSU forward Jarell Martindidn’t just wear No. 1 on Saturday in the Tigers’ 70-63 win over Florida in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Martin’s steal at midcourt and between-the-legs windmill dunk late in the first half was the No. 1 play in the Top Plays segment on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Saturday night.
Martin’s slam brought the crowd to its feet and energized his team, which had just given up 13 unanswered points to the Gators. It gave LSU the lead for good at 28-26 and was part of a career-high 28-point performance.
Martin, who had a game-high 13 rebounds to go with his 28 points, is one of four finalists for the Capital One Cup Impact Performance of the Week.
After scoring a total of 22 points in his previous two games, Martin gave LSU a huge boost late in the first half. In addition to the dunk, he hit a buzzer-beating 3-point shot to end the first half to give the Tigers a 33-26 halftime advantage.
Fans can vote online for Martin at www.CapitalOneCup.com.
Despite the win over Florida, LSU’s RPI dropped slightly.
Arkansas tipoff set
The tipoff for LSU’s regular-season finale at No. 18 Arkansas on Saturday, March 7, which had been previously listed as “to be determined,” has been set for 1 p.m. It will be televised by ESPN or ESPN2.
The time was listed Saturday on Arkansas’ official website and confirmed Sunday by an athletic department spokesman.