ESPN analyst Dick Vitale believes the LSU basketball team still has some time to make a run to an NCAA tournament appearance, but anything short of that would be a “major disappointment.”
Speaking with reporters on a conference call Thursday, Vitale, who will call the semifinal games and championship game in the SEC tournament next weekend, said LSU has a chance take a big step toward its goal in Saturday’s regular-season finale at Kentucky.
Vitale said he thinks LSU will be in the NCAA tournament with an upset of Kentucky at Rupp Arena. If they can’t pull that off, he said the Tigers could still get in with two wins in the SEC tournament in Nashville, Tennessee.
But winning at Rupp will be tricky, he said, considering Kentucky is 16-0 there this season and has won 37 consecutive games at home.
“I think LSU’s still got to do some winning,” said Vitale, who was on hand when LSU dropped a heartbreaker to then-No. 1 Oklahoma on Jan. 30 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. “What they have to do is right in front of them; they have to do something no one has done.
“Think about it, no one has beaten Kentucky at Rupp. Well, they have a date with Kentucky at Rupp this weekend. That’s it right there … you have got to go out and spring the upset.”
Vitale said he likes what freshman Antonio Blakeney has done lately in averaging just under 20 points a game in his last eight outings, but that fellow freshman Ben Simmons will need to take the Tigers where they want to go.
“He’s got to carry them on his shoulder in a big moment,” Vitale said. “If they don’t win that game, they have to win a minimum — a minimum — of two games in the SEC tournament to really be up there.”
Vitale said there’s no doubt LSU, which is 18-12 overall and just a game off the SEC lead at 11-6, has the talent to be in the Big Dance — especially with Simmons, who Vitale last week named to his five-man “All-Rolls Royce” team.
“They’re dangerous. … Any time you go on the floor with a kid like Simmons, he’s capable of going off for a big, big game and his game will help because it stretches the defense,” he said. “When defenses pack it in on him, there are better angles for guys on the perimeter.
“Certainly, losing (Keith) Hornsby doesn’t help them at all. They definitely have a chance with Simmons and if a kid like Blakeney gets hot. And (Tim) Quarterman, to me, can be so good. That Oklahoma game, he nearly carried them in that game.”