Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Tigers travel to Nashville looking to solidify their place in the NCAA Tournament
The regular season has concluded for the LSU men’s basketball team; now its attention is shifting toward postseason play, beginning with the SEC Tournament which tips off Wednesday in Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
While the Tigers couldn’t quite defend last year’s SEC regular season championship, it still ended the year tied for second in the league, won 12 conference games and enters the tournament as the three-seed with a double bye. This in spite of playing horrendous defense, and lacking both a true rim protector and point guard.
LSU may not have had as successful a regular season as last year’s team, but to finish first and third in consecutive years ought to be a sign that the program is on the right track to being a team that can consistently challenge Kentucky for supremacy in the SEC. LSU is enjoying its best two-year stretch since the 2004-’05 and 2005-’06 seasons which, coincidentally, is the last time LSU made the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons. So yeah, LSU may have been dreadful on defense and was in nail-biter after nail-biter, but this team was also 2-16 four years ago and is now sitting near the top of the league.
As for the here and now, LSU enters the SEC Tournament as a team that’s maybe not an absolute lock to make the NCAAs, but probably will see its name called on Selection Sunday. The SEC’s projected to only get four teams in and LSU is consistently one of the four teams included. LSU’s NET ranking is No. 29 overall and is No. 16 in strength of schedule. The Tigers have four Quadrant-One wins (beating a top-30 team at home, a top-50 team on a neutral court, or a top-75 team on the road) and seven Quadrant-Two wins, which is the same amount as surefire NCAA tournament teams like San Diego State, Auburn and Virginia.
LSU’s done enough to get into the tournament, the question will be can it add a key win or two to bump its seeding a line or two. Currently, LSU is projected as a No. 8 or 9 seed, which means the Tigers would have the unenviable task of playing a No. 1 seed in the second round. If LSU can either win the SEC championship game or at least make an appearance in it, the Tigers could get a more favorable draw for the big dance and perhaps find itself playing in the tournament’s second weekend like last season.
But will LSU make a run in Nashville? The SEC tournament hasn’t been kind to the Tigers in recent years. Last year LSU was one-and-done despite being the tournament’s No. 1 seed, and the Tigers haven’t won a game in Nashville since the 2015-16 season.
This year’s bracket is as follows:
LSU will be the late game on Friday and play either Vanderbilt, Arkansas or South Carolina. In theory it looks like a good draw for the Tigers. But Vanderbilt and Arkansas have both beaten LSU and scored 99 points in the process; the Gamecocks, on the other hand, cut a 19-point second half deficit down to four and need to make a deep run in Nashville, if not winning the tournament, to get into the NCAA tournament. And again, LSU hasn’t won a game in Nashville since Ben Simmons was in purple and gold.
LSU’s trip to Nashville is ripe with opportunity. The Tigers can build upon the thorough beating it handed Georgia Saturday afternoon in the PMAC and exorcise some postseason demons. A win virtually clinches an NCAA berth for LSU. Winning the tournament or appearing in the championship game could improve LSU’s seeding for the NCAA tournament. What happened in the regular season doesn’t matter anymore. LSU has its destiny in front of it, we’ll see what it makes of the opportunity.
And now, if I may, I’d like to speak from the heart. As I’m sure you saw, a tornado ripped through east Nashville last week and other parts of middle Tennessee. I live in Nashville and while my girlfriend and I made it through the storm okay, many others have lost so much. At least 48 buildings collapsed and 24 lives were lost. Below are some links to donate to various relief efforts for the area if you feel inclined to do so.
The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee
Keep the Music Playing
Visit Music City
Nashville Strong Shirts