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LSU coach Paul Mainieri points to the bullpen as he pulls LSU starting pitcher Ma'Khail Hilliard (52) from the game against Ole Miss, Friday, May 3, 2019, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

Will LSU be home or away to open NCAA play?

While a top-eight national seed and hopes of winning the Southeastern Conference overall or SEC West Division titles are off the boards for the LSU baseball team this season, the Tigers are still in the mix to host an NCAA tournament regional. Something LSU did not manage to do last season, when the Tigers were shipped off to face eventual College World Series champion Oregon State as the No. 2 seed in the Corvallis regional.

At 32-21 overall and 15-12 in SEC play after Tuesday night’s 7-5 victory over UNO, LSU is looking up at a bunch of contenders for the final one or two regional spots. The Tigers entered the day with an RPI of 22. Unlike men’s basketball, which went to an arcane new formula called the NET rankings last season, RPI still rules in baseball.

If LSU is to host a regional for the 26th time, the Tigers definitely have some work to do. They need to have a winning week overall against UNO and in the regular-season ending series starting Thursday against Auburn, and probably need to win a couple of games in next week’s SEC tournament in Hoover, Alabama.

It’s essentially an all-or-nothing proposition for LSU. In or out. Do or die. For his part, LSU coach Paul Mainieri was choosing to focus on the positives, mainly because the negatives do him and his team no good.

“You stand here and you dream a little bit. What if we have a great week and put it all together?” Mainieri said Monday as he met with the media. “We’ve got an RPI of 22. We’re playing a team that actually has an RPI higher than us (Auburn is No. 19). Then we go to the SEC tournament and have a great week there.

“All of a sudden I think we’re back in the conversation for hosting a regional.”

That’s a lot of ifs, but hardly a delusional fantasy on Mainieri’s part.

Despite their struggles, the Tigers do have some highlights to their résumé. The biggest gem is top 50 wins.

LSU is 17-13 against the RPI top 50. Only the top four SEC teams likely to wind up as national seeds — RPI No. 1 Vanderbilt (22-8), No. 3 Mississippi State (23-10), No. 4 Georgia (18-11) and No. 6 Arkansas (19-8) — have more RPI top 50 victories than LSU. RPI No. 7 Georgia Tech is 17-10 against the top 50.

A lot of teams bunched right ahead of LSU in the RPI top 25 can not match the Tigers’ résumé in that regard. No. 21 Illinois has no top 25 wins; LSU is 7-8. No. 20 North Carolina is only 9-8 against the top 50. No. 18 Oregon State is 8-8, No. 17 West Virginia is 11-9 and No. 15 UC Santa Barbara is 3-0 with no wins against the top 25.

“If you look around the country, there aren't a lot of options,” said Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball.com on the “After Further Review” show on WNXX-FM last week. “West Virginia is a team we had as a regional host last week, and West Virginia loses a series to TCU. You look around the country, you've got Illinois as a team to keep an eye on. Illinois' RPI is in a good spot, but Illinois has a weak conference record. There's a lot of teams out there in the mix for a host that have a lot of work.

“I think the biggest thing for LSU is to go 3-3 down the stretch (in the last two SEC series), they put themselves in a pretty good spot.”

But finishing strong is the big key for the Tigers, who lost two of three last week to Ole Miss.

The Rebels ran aground in Oxford last weekend, getting swept by Mississippi State to drop into a tie for fifth in the SEC overall standings with the Tigers. While LSU gets to be at home against Auburn this weekend, the Rebels (RPI: 28) are on the road at RPI No. 10 Tennessee (35-17, 12-15).

“Everyone thought, and maybe myself, that the Ole Miss series might determine a fifth host site in the SEC,” Mainieri said. “Ole Miss goes home and gets swept by Mississippi State and has a tough series this weekend at Tennessee, who just beat Florida two of three on the road.

“If we’re fortunate to do well this weekend against Auburn, that’s a top-50 team. Then you go to the SEC tournament and everyone there is a top 50 team, and how many wins you can accumulate there. I don’t know if the committee puts emphasis on that or not.”

You have to believe that it would. One of the factors listed in that NCAA Nitty Gritty report is how a team does in its last 10 games. LSU is now 5-5 in its last 10 after the UNO win.

“Maybe I’m just always the optimist, but I think you’re one good little spurt away from changing your whole status in terms of how people look at you,” Mainieri said.

It’s LSU, so you know the Tigers will get a look from the committee, which is made up of people who are used to seeing packed stands at Alex Box Stadium during NCAA tournament play.

But to host, LSU must win. And perhaps, win big.

NCAA baseball key dates and info

• Regional host sites: 16 regional sites will be announced at 7:30 p.m. May 26 on NCAA.com, ESPN Bottom Line and Twitter

• Field of 64: Will be announced at 11 a.m. May 27 on ESPNU

• For first time, instant replay will be used in all rounds of the tournament

• For the second year, teams will be seeded 1-16 instead of only 1-8

• Chairman of the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee is South Carolina athletic director and former baseball coach Ray Tanner


Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​