The LSU Tigers and Lady Tigers are packing their bags this week for a pair of road games that will have a huge impact on their postseason travels.
They need to pack a couple of wins for their return trips. Skip the T-shirts and trinkets; and for goodness sake, don’t buy the overpriced bottled water in the hotel room.
It’s a bit of a myth that the games at the end of the season are more meaningful than the ones that came a month ago, or two, or three. Sometimes the big wins earlier and the painful losses count just as much.
Ask coach Johnny Jones if he’d like to have a mulligan in the LSU men’s Southeastern Conference opener at Missouri, a team that was so inspired by that upset it’s lost all 13 SEC games it’s played since. But LSU’s NCAA tournament hopes are enhanced by a 74-73 win way back on Dec. 4 at West Virginia, at No. 16 the polls and No. 24 in Monday’s RPI still the Tigers’ best victory this season.
LSU’s best win on the women’s side is over RPI No. 11 Kentucky. But back at Thanksgiving, the Lady Tigers went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for what was supposed to be a three-game tournament. Because of some incompetent work by the tournament organizers, the only game LSU played was a 69-67 loss to Santa Clara, a 10-15 team scuffling along at No. 227 in Monday’s RPI.
That loss is still an anchor at the bottom of the blue Pacific on LSU’s NCAA hopes. Nikki Caldwell should petition the NCAA and tell them, hey, what happens in Mexico stays in Mexico, right?
At this stage, for teams like LSU’s riding/flirting with the NCAA tournament bubble, you are what you are, scars and all. And the Tigers and Lady Tigers have their scars. And that’s what makes this week’s road games so huge.
The LSU men travel to Auburn on Tuesday night for a 6 p.m. game on ESPNU. Less than three weeks ago, Auburn came to Baton Rouge and came away with an 81-77 upset that rankles as one of LSU’s most puzzling “Ls” of them all.
In their first year under coach Bruce Pearl, you had to figure Auburn would pull an upset or two somewhere. But since beating LSU, it’s lost four of its next five (though with a win at highly regarded Georgia). That includes allowing 101 points against Arkansas and 110 points at Kentucky.
At 12-15 overall, Auburn sports a befittingly mediocre 132 RPI. Being swept by a team of Auburn’s stature is not something LSU needs to have on its NCAA résumé.
The selection committee looks hard at good wins. LSU has four against the top 50, including two on the road at West Virginia and Ole Miss.
But the lowly losses get a long look as well. And a two-game sweep by Auburn would come back to haunt. Frankly, with four games left at Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee at home and at Arkansas, LSU needs to win three out of four. If LSU can’t win Tuesday, it’s margin for error is just about completely gone.
The LSU women dug themselves a huge early NCAA hole with a 6-6 nonconference record, the program’s worst in 20 years. They dug themselves out with a 9-4 start to conference play, reaching a tie for third place.
But that was before a 63-41 loss Sunday at Arkansas, a hot mess of a defeat that represented LSU’s worst offensive output of the season.
For the Lady Tigers, the goal is simple: get to 10 SEC wins. No 10-win SEC women’s team has been left out of the NCAA tournament since the conference went to the 16-game schedule in the 2009-10 season. Twenty-two for 22. None of those 22 teams had as many regular-season losses as LSU does now, however.
The Lady Tigers routed Ole Miss 70-41 at home on Jan. 29, but Oxford is a notoriously tough place to play. And Ole Miss upset Kentucky 67-59 there Monday night.
If LSU can’t win Thursday in Oxford, the Lady Tigers may find themselves in must win mode at home Sunday against No. 12 Texas A&M. That’s a predicament to be avoided at all costs. ESPN women’s bracketologist Charlie Crème has the Lady Tigers as one of the last four teams in the NCAA field as a No. 11 seed, but LSU would slide to the bad side of the bubble with a three-game losing streak to end the regular season.
Survive and advance starts now.