HOOVER, Ala. — The LSU Tigers’ late season “To do list” is rapidly running out of lines to cross off.
Win the Southeastern Conference Western Division? Check.
Claim a share of the SEC regular-season championship? Check.
Avoid an 0-2 pratfall in the SEC tournament? Check and check after a 10-3 win Wednesday over Missouri and a 10-0 seven-inning throttling of Kentucky on Thursday night in a game shortened by the tournament’s mercy rule.
There are still some pretty big objectives still out there, though, at least the ones the Tigers can do something about right now. They’ll try to stay alive Saturday against South Carolina for a chance to win the SEC tournament.
But the overriding, looming goal is to be a top-eight seed in the NCAA tournament.
Regional host sites will be announced Sunday night. It’s a certainty that LSU will be one of those 16 schools with its 41 wins, SEC regular-season trophy and a current RPI well within the top 10, according to the respected website, WarrenNolan.com.
A top-eight seed means you get a less potent set of three teams sent your way for the regional. It means you get to host a super regional should you advance, enhancing your chances of going to the College World Series.
None of this is a guarantee, of course. LSU is 2-3 in trying to reach Omaha as a national seed the past five years, but as in blackjack the odds favor the house.
Given what LSU has done here, the consensus is pretty rock solid that the Tigers have accomplished their mission. Monday when the 64-team NCAA field is revealed, LSU will be one of those top eight seeds for the sixth straight year, tying Stanford’s record.
“Right now you look at the way these guys have played the past few weeks and I don’t think there’s any doubt they’re a national seed,” said Kendall Rogers, who covers the college game for D1Baseball.com. “They’re just playing for a number. They’re safe for a national seed. They got an (SEC) co-championship, they’re playing well here. I think it’s completely locked down.”
Teddy Cahill of Baseball America agreed.
“Usually being SEC champions, that’s a good start,” said Cahill, who like Rogers is here covering the tournament. “They’ve got the RPI for it, 21 top-50 wins. The fact that they’ve come out here and continued to play well was the last little bit of it. I think right now they’re looking pretty good.”
Cahill said his publication had LSU pegged as a No. 7 seed entering the SEC tournament. He said depending on whether or not the Tigers can finish with a fifth SEC tournament title under Paul Mainieri they could climb a bit higher.
“After (the) No. 1 (seed) it really doesn’t matter,” Cahill said. “I could see them sneaking past TCU potentially. I think it would be hard for them to get higher than sixth, but I don’t want to rule that out.”
Mainieri is confident his Tigers have done what they need to do, but the 2011 season still lurks in the back of his mind. LSU had a strong RPI despite a 36-20 record, but its ninth-place finish in the SEC left the Tigers out of what was then an eight-team SEC tournament (before Texas A&M and Missouri joined the conference) and subsequently out of the NCAA tournament for one of only two times in his first 10 seasons at the school.
“We’ve played one of the toughest schedules in the country,” he said. “The Louisiana College game (a 13-0 win) doesn’t count because they only recognize Division I wins. But last night (against Kentucky) was our 40th (Division I win). I don’t know if that’s a benchmark or not, but winning 40 stands out a lot.
“I think we’re in really good shape, but I’m not a member of the selection committee. So how do you know?”
Interestingly, South Carolina athletic director and former two-time national championship winning coach Ray Tanner is on the committee. As it turns out, Tanner’s Gamecocks are fighting for an NCAA berth after going 13-17 in conference play. The general consensus is South Carolina will have to at least reach the SEC final to get an at-large slot, though of course winning the tournament carries with it an automatic bid.
South Carolina eliminated Kentucky 3-1 on Friday and potentially knocked the Wildcats out of a national seed. Mainieri had worried that whether or not LSU beat Kentucky on Thursday might have impacted the Tigers’ hopes of being a national seed, but Rogers said he thought UK was fighting for the last top eight spot with the likes of Stanford and Southern Mississippi.
So, by all indications, LSU should have nothing to worry about. But certainly Mainieri won’t rest easy until he sees a number go up next to his team’s name on Monday.