What will it take to get the LSU baseball team into the 2021 NCAA tournament?
Update, 11:40 a.m. Monday: LSU makes the NCAA tournament
Sentimentality simmering over Paul Mainieri’s retirement announcement Friday? Certainly possible.
LSU’s significant baseball tradition? Doubtful, but overnighting every member of the NCAA selection committee a link to the new Skip Bertman documentary “Hold the Rope” couldn’t hurt.
How about Northeastern winning the Colonial Athletic Association tournament with a pair of 10-inning victories Sunday over UNC Wilmington, 7-5 and 11-10?
It may be something just like that. Something like keeping a mid-major conference from going from a one-bid league to a two-bid league. Because that is how thin the margin is for the Tigers heading into Selection Monday.
The Tigers put themselves into this sweaty-palmed fix with a 13-17 Southeastern Conference regular-season record, coupled with a one-and-done exit from the SEC tournament with Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to Georgia.
Since then, other than the day full of tributes and tears flowing from Mainieri’s retirement bombshell, it has been a week of scoreboard watching for LSU.
The results have been mixed. According to the respected college baseball website D1Baseball.com, by Sunday afternoon the Tigers had sunk to the last at-large team in the field. Sixty-four of 64. It will lead up to some anxious moments going into the NCAA selection show (11 a.m., ESPN2).
LSU’s NCAA RPI was still a very respectable 28th going into Sunday’s play. According to the website WarrenNolan.com, the Tigers also still had a strong No. 4 strength of schedule.
But those pesky one-bid mid-major conference that persist on becoming two-bid leagues because their regular-season champions keep stumbling in their league tournaments … that’s been the current bane of LSU’s existence.
D1Baseball’s Kendall Rogers gave us a list of mid-major tourneys and season-ending situations to watch for in Hoover, Alabama, at the SEC tournament. We’ve added a couple more that could impact whether LSU ends up in or out of the NCAA field:
• Fairfield (37-3, RPI 2) lost two in the MAAC tournament, falling to Rider (RPI 56). Negative for LSU.
• East Carolina (41-15, RPI 15) lost in American Athletic Conference semifinals to UCF. South Florida (RPI 107) won the title. Negative for the Tigers, though ECU could make up for it by sending former LSU assistant Cliff Godwin to be its new head coach.
• Connecticut (32-16, RPI 20) was in the Big East tournament final Sunday night against Xavier (RPI 96). Tigers had to be pulling for UConn.
• Wright State (32-11, RPI 25) won the Horizon League tournament. Plus for LSU.
• Indiana State (30-19, RPI 30) lost the Missouri Valley tournament title to Dallas Baptist (RPI 48). Negative for LSU.
• VCU (37-14, RPI 31) won the Atlantic-10 tournament. Plus for LSU.
• Northeastern (36-10, RPI 35) won the CAA tournament. Plus for LSU.
• Nevada (24-18, RPI 36) wrapped up the Mountain West Conference regular-season title (no tournament). Plus for LSU.
• Liberty (39-14, RPI 37) lost the Atlantic Sun tournament to Jacksonville, 16-32 with a 209 RPI. Negative for LSU.
Despite what the numbers may or may not foretell for the Tigers, I do believe in the end the committee will pick LSU based on Mainieri’s well-timed retirement notice. Everyone on the selection committee knows who he is. What he has accomplished and meant to the game. The respect Mainieri carries is substantial.
That said, LSU had better have good enough numbers to earn it. Because the committee is likely not ditching a Liberty or Indiana State in the Tigers’ favor.
Nonetheless, the substantial possibility exists that Mainieri has coached his last game . If LSU’s name doesn’t appear on the TV screen Monday morning, the coaching search clock really gets revved up.
Godwin is clearly someone LSU could outbid the competition for (he currently makes $395,000 with a contract to take him to $425,000 by 2024), but would he be the top target? A lot of folks think that is Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan, who issued a non-denial denial about the LSU job Saturday at the SEC tournament.
“I’m the head coach at the University of Florida and it’s just that simple,” O’Sullivan said.
Another coach likely to be on LSU’s radar is former Tulane assistant Jim Schlossnagle at TCU. And everyone’s hot name is young Tennessee coach Tony Vitello, who has the Volunteers on the verge of being a top-eight national seed. Vitello makes around $600,000, and who knows whether Tennessee will be willing to double his salary, or more, to keep him.
Whether LSU’s season continues into next weekend, its coaching search may drag on considerably longer given that its top targets, naturally, may be people getting their teams deep into the NCAA tournament and the College World Series.
For now, the drama builds, tick by mid-major tick.