NASHVILLE, Tenn. — While receiving the regular-season trophy before its quarterfinal game with Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday, the LSU basketball team had its eyes on a bigger prize.
Making it a double as the SEC tournament champion with three wins here would have earned the Tigers another big trophy, and, quite possibly, a coveted No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Even just a win or two would have been beneficial to No. 9 LSU — producing a No. 2 seed at worst, according to the nation’s leading bracketologists.
But that was before a 76-73 loss to Florida sent LSU home to await news of its NCAA tournament fate, which will become known at 5 p.m. Sunday.
LSU will learn where and when it will play, but, more importantly, the Tigers will find out what the last-second setback against the Gators cost them when their seed is revealed.
In the wake of the disappointing loss, interim coach Tony Benford suggested a No. 2 seed could still be in the cards based on LSU’s body of work.
Their resume includes a 26-5 record in the regular season and a 16-2 conference mark (including a 9-0 road record) with at least one win over each of the other 13 conference teams.
Victories over Kentucky and Tennessee, who were both ranked fifth in the AP poll at the time, would be a big selling point as well to the 10-person NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee that is putting together the brackets in New York.
“It kind of depends on some of the other teams that are still playing out there, what they do,” Benford said Friday. “You win the SEC regular season, I think we deserve a two (seed) at least. I think we’ve done enough work to deserve that.”
The bigger question is how the committee will look at the suspension of coach Will Wade.
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, who three years ago completed a five-year term on the committee, told The Advocate last week that Wade’s suspension should not impact the Tigers’ seeding.
At the same time, he said it could be on the minds of some committee members.
“They’re supposed to go by the facts of how the team has performed throughout the year,” Alleva said. “It should not affect our seeding.”
If that’s the case, the Tigers will likely be a No. 3 seed.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com both had LSU in that spot Saturday morning. Lunardi had the Tigers playing Harvard in Tulsa, Oklahoma, while Palm had the Tigers going against Georgia State in Jacksonville, Florida.
Of course, there were a lot of conference tournament games left to play over the weekend, which could theoretically drop LSU to a No. 4 seed if a team or two that is projected there makes a significant jump.
Whatever seed they wind up with, Skylar Mays and Tremont Waters were relishing the opportunity Friday even though they knew they could have been playing over the weekend.
Having a day or two to rest while waiting to learn their fate wasn’t sitting well with either player, or their teammates.
“We all wanted to be out there playing rather than sitting around,” Mays said. “Obviously, we know we’re going to be in a great position no matter what.
“We’ve had a tremendous year and put ourselves in position to be a high seed in the NCAA tournament. It would have been better to give ourselves a chance to win the SEC championship and improve our seed even more, but we just have to get back to work.”
Waters wasn’t about to sit around talking about what might have been. He, too, was looking forward to refocusing and preparing for what’s to come.
“We wanted to win this weekend, but in life you can’t let one thing that didn’t go in your favor affect other things,” he said. “This is a loss that we had in the SEC tournament; we can’t let it affect us in the NCAA tournament.”