NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Sunday will be a long day for the LSU men’s basketball team.
Perhaps even excruciatingly long, thanks to Friday’s overtime loss to Auburn that knocked LSU out of the Southeastern Conference tournament and kept the Tigers — again — from strengthening their NCAA tournament résumé.
While the 10-member NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, a group that includes LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva, concludes five days of deliberations in an Indianapolis conference room Sunday, the 22-10 Tigers will be wondering whether they’ll be awarded one of 68 spots on the bracket.
Are Johnny Jones’ Tigers in? Are they out?
Will it be the NCAA tournament, which LSU hasn’t been to since 2009? Or the National Invitation Tournament for the second year in a row after the Tigers won a game and advanced to the second round last spring?
LSU is fully aware it doesn’t control what happens behind closed doors in Indianapolis, but at the same time Jones and his players believe they’ve done enough to make a case despite their exit in the SEC quarterfinals.
“It’s not in our hands, but we feel like we’ve done all we possibly could in terms of scheduling, playing in a tough conference, winning some tough games in some tough spots,” Jones said following Friday’s 73-70 overtime loss to Auburn. “We won six out of nine games on the road in this conference, and we were able to go on the road and play some difficult teams. We’ve played some quality teams and had some good games, so we’re hopeful that will speak volumes.”
While two prominent national analysts had LSU safely in the field as of Saturday night with an official NCAA RPI of 54, anything can happen when the official tournament bracket is revealed at 5 p.m. on Selection Sunday.
Even Alleva won’t know how it all shakes out for the Tigers because, by rule, committee members are required to step out of the room whenever the merits — or demerits — of his or her school are up for discussion.
Based on LSU’s roller coaster of a season, the committee will have a lot to talk about while Alleva cools his heels.
For starters, there will be LSU’s 11-7 SEC record; that helped the Tigers finish in a four-way tie for third in the conference in the regular season, which should help because the SEC had the fifth-best conference RPI.
Then there are the quality wins at Arkansas and West Virginia as well as a victory over Georgia at home. Those three teams all had an RPI in the top 40 on Saturday morning.
All told, Jones’ team put together a 12-5 record against teams that hold down spots in the top 100 — including a 3-2 mark against the top 50. One of those two losses was a 71-69 setback to top-ranked and undefeated Kentucky.
There are some warts for LSU, of course, like there are for most teams under consideration.
The biggest blemishes were SEC losses at Mississippi State and Missouri, teams that had RPIs of 215 and 217 on Saturday. Missouri won just nine games, including a 74-67 overtime decision over LSU in the teams’ conference opener,
While two losses to Auburn didn’t look good, it still had an RPI of 129 after defeating LSU. Twin setbacks to Texas A&M, with an RPI of 66, also didn’t hurt as much, even though the Aggies aren’t expected to get a tournament bid.
In a quiet locker room Friday, LSU guard Keith Hornsby was confident the Tigers would be rewarded for their body of work.
“I think so, yeah, I really do,” he said. “Sure, we’ve had some setbacks that people frowned upon, but this is a tough league. ...
“The SEC is one of the best leagues in the country, and (upsets) happen. So I think they should look at all the good stuff that we’ve done because we did a whole lot of that.”
Guard Tim Quarterman tried to put a positive spin on it as well, knowing the Tigers had run out of chances to impress the committee.
“It’s not what we think; it’s what the committee thinks,” he said when asked whether LSU had done enough. “I feel like we worked hard all season and we had a good season when you look at it.”
“We don’t have any excuses, because nobody knows what happens in the background prior to games and what goes into it,” Jones said. “What I do know is the teams we’ve played have been extremely competitive throughout the year, and Auburn was one of those teams.”
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NCAA RPI: 54
Top 100 wins: 12
(RPI in parentheses)
at Arkansas (22), at West Virginia (24), Georgia (37), at Ole Miss (53), Ole Miss (53), at Florida (70), Florida (70), UMass (81), Sam Houston State (82), Alabama (85), South Carolina (89), at Tennessee (95)
Top 100 losses: 5
Kentucky (1), vs. Old Dominion (46), Texas A&M (66), at Texas A&M (66), Tennessee (95)
Note: All RPI ratings are through Friday.
LSU will get in if ...
The selection committee looks at the Tigers’ entire body of work. LSU went 11-7 and finished in a four-way tie for third in the SEC, the fifth-strongest league in the nation according to RPI. It’s hard to think that a 12-5 record against top-100 teams — including a 3-2 mark against teams in the top 50, with two of those wins coming on the road — won’t carry a lot of weight.
LSU won’t get in if ...
The Tigers are put under the microscope and are penalized for some of their head-scratching losses — especially the ones to Mississippi State (215 RPI) and Missouri (217). The setbacks to Texas A&M, Tennessee, Clemson — even Auburn — shouldn’t be fatal because those teams were in the RPI top 130 as of Saturday, but you never know on Selection Sunday.
Sheldon Mickles’ prediction
LSU gets in as the No. 10 seed in the Midwest region and will play seventh-seeded Michigan State in Louisville, Kentucky.
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Where LSU stands in the brackets of national experts (as of Saturday):
Joe Lunardi/ESPN (RPI 52)
Opponent: Providence (6)
Site: Columbus, Ohio
Note: Lunardi has LSU playing a first-round game vs. Boise State in Dayton, Ohio, with the winner advancing to meet Providence.
Jerry Palm/CBS Sports (RPI 54)
Opponent: St. John’s (7)
Site: Portland, Ore.