Your friendly neighborhood sports columnist is here to answer six pressing questions about LSU basketball on the eve of the Southeastern Conference tournament:
Does LSU have to win the SEC tournament’s automatic bid to get in the NCAA tournament?
It certainly appears so. At 18-13, the Tigers’ RPI is 90 going into their SEC tourney opener in Friday’s quarterfinals. Having lost four of its past six, LSU isn’t exactly riding into Nashville, Tennessee, on a flaming basketball of momentum. At worst, the Tigers need to win two games to reach the SEC final. An LSU team that does that and finishes 20-14 may squeak into one of those last four at-large berths and wind up in the First Four in Dayton, if the Tigers can raise their RPI 10-12 points. But even that is a long shot. It looks like LSU is automatically in or automatically out.
How does LSU’s path to the SEC tournament final look?
It’s a minefield. As the No. 4 seed, the Tigers will likely face No. 5 Vanderbilt in the Commodores’ hometown. After that, LSU is likely to have to beat a Texas A&M team that regained its strength after a February swoon that included a 76-71 loss at LSU. Get through all that and Kentucky likely awaits in the final in a blue-tinted arena that will look like Rupp Arena South. In other words, don’t hold your breath that LSU’s lone SEC tournament trophy from 1980 is about to get any company this year.
If LSU doesn’t make it to the NCAA tournament, is Johnny Jones in trouble?
No. Settling for the NIT would warm the seat behind his desk, but every indication is that Jones will be back next season. Now next season the mandate to make the NCAA tournament or else would likely be intense, and it’ll be a tough task without Ben Simmons and Keith Hornsby, as well as Tim Quarterman or Antonio Blakeney should they decide to go pro. But that’s a worry for another day. Right now, Jones and his Tigers have plenty of concerns on their plate.
Will the selection committee take into account LSU’s games without Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor?
Yes, but that both helps and hurts the Tigers’ case. That LSU played its first eight games without Victor and first seven without Hornsby gives more weight to the Tigers’ respectable 11-7 SEC record. But the fact that Hornsby is hurt gain and not likely to return also damages LSU because the Tigers are clearly a lesser team without him. The health of your team is certainly a factor and that’s not a check mark in LSU’s column.
Will Joe Alleva being on the NCAA selection committee help LSU’s cause?
Well, he’s sort of the elephant in the room from an LSU perspective. All of the 10 committee members are athletic directors, so you have to know they all know which schools the other nine represent. That said, Alleva must leave the room when LSU is discussed. That said, the discussion could be short lived if it ever starts. Having participated in the NCAA mock selection media exercise last year, I learned that the committee starts with a pool of schools that everyone agrees are in as at-larges no matter what. LSU obviously won’t be in that group. The Tigers only start to get into the conversation if they win Friday in Nashville.
If LSU winds up in the NIT, will the Tigers open with a home game?
Believe it or not, there are websites that specialize in NIT “bracketology.” Both DRatings.com and NYCBuckets.com have LSU as a No. 5 NIT seed out of eight in each NIT “regional.” That would mean the Tigers would go on the road to play a No. 4 seed. That said, if LSU is relegated to the NIT, you have to think Simmons’ star power would shines brightly enough to earn the Tigers at least one home game to enhance LSU’s chances of sticking around. Now, how much would LSU’s often disinterested-looking team care about making an NIT run is a matter of conjecture. But it would be cool in one way for the Tigers’ to make a long run and allow retiring radio announcer Jim Hawthorne to end his broadcasting career saying, “Live from Madison Square Garden …”
After being named the top freshman in the nation by USA Today on Tuesday, Simmons earned the same honor from The Sporting News on Wednesday.
Simmons was also named to The Sporting News’ All-Freshman team and was a second-team All-America pick. He was also chosen as the SEC Freshman of the Year by the league’s coaches Tuesday.
Also Wednesday, Simmons was named one of five finalists for the Julius Erving Award, which goes to the nation’s top small forward. Simmons is already a candidate for the Naismith Trophy that goes to the nation’s top player as well as two awards that are presented by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association: the Oscar Robertson Trophy for the nation’s top player and the Wayman Tisdale Award for the nation’s top freshman.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.