Tigers not rattled by hectic trip

Johnson says team will be prepared for their NIT battle with the Ducks.

It wasn't a perfect ending for the LSU men's basketball team's regular season, but the Tigers booked a ticket to the postseason, a definite step in the right direction for a program that has been an SEC bottom-dweller the past two seasons.

On Sunday night, shortly after the NCAA Tournament selection show came and went, Trent Johnson and his team got word that LSU was one of four SEC teams invited to the 2012 NIT.

The opponent is Oregon (22-9), meaning the Tigers (18-14) have to travel to the Pacific Northwest for an opening-round game on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m.

"We are excited about another opportunity to continue to play," Johnson said Monday. "The guys had a lot of bounce to their step when we found out.

"It's a quick turnaround. We went to practice (Sunday night) at 8:30 for about an hour and a half."

The team took a chartered plane from Baton Rouge to Eugene, which should allow ample time for the team to fit in both a walk-through and film study before turning in for the night.

"Hopefully we get there about 5:30, because we will have a short workout from 7:00-8:30, and then we will have an extensive video session and put in our game plan," Johnson said.

Despite the quick turnaround, Johnson isn't attempting to sell the idea that the Tigers will be behind the 8-ball because of the travel situation.

If anything, Johnson is attempting to distance his team from the notion.

"We are going to get on a chartered plane for a 4-hour flight, and we are going to fly into Eugene and take a bus (to the stadium)," Johnson said. "They are going to get 4 hours of sleep and then practice. It doesn't get any better than that.

"I think that is really overrated when you start talking about a last-minute notice."

Matching up with the Ducks
All potential excuses aside, the Tigers don't have long to game-plan for Oregon, which means Johnson, who spent was a head coach in the former Pac 10 at Stanford from 2004-08 and spent several seasons at Washington and with the Cardinal as an assistant, has to cram film study into a 48-hour window.

Johnson likes where the Tigers stand against Oregon despite seeding sending the group across the country in short order.

"I think our matchups are really good," he said. "In terms of matchups, they are favorable for both teams.

"For us, it's the same deal. We need to make sure to keep the ball out of the middle of the court in our half court, and we need to make sure we limit their transition opportunities, because they shoot it quick in transition."

Senior guard Devoe Joseph, who is averaging a team-high 16.6 points per game, is one of the Ducks that Johnson stressed his team must find a way to stop on Tuesday.

"He's special," Johnson said of Joseph, who transferred to Oregon from Minnesota during the 2010-2011 season. "He's going to be a tough matchup for us.

"And (senior guard) Garrett Sim is a kid I am very familiar with. We recruited him at Stanford. (Junior forward) E.J. Singler was a kid we recruited, too."

Sim averages 12.2 points per game, while Singler averages 13.1 points and 5.5 rebounds.

Having to quickly plan for an offense with three players who average double-digit scoring can be tough, which is why Johnson is using the team's recent experiences as one of the biggest teaching tools going into the postseason.

If the Tigers can match their intensity from games like Kentucky last Friday, Johnson feels the road to Madison Square Garden and the NIT Final Four will be more easily navigable.

"One of the things I talk about with them is how hard you have to play and how competitive you have to be," he said. "There are 100 teams playing. You look at the NIT bracket, and there are some good basketball teams.

"There are four from our league."

Lessons learned
After LSU's 61-53 win over Georgia on Feb. 22, the chatter around Baton Rouge began.

Sitting at 17-10 overall, the Tigers had managed seven wins in conference play, more than double the combined win total in league play the previous two seasons.

With three games and the SEC Tournament still to go, LSU had the chance to go over 20 wins and – potentially – land a spot in the Big Dance.

Instead, the Tigers dropped consecutive games to Ole Miss, Tennessee and Auburn to close the season.

In the end, it took a 70-54 win over Arkansas in the first round of the SEC Tournament and a back-and-forth loss to No. 1 Kentucky in the second round to push LSU back into the conversation for a spot in the postseason.

Of course, making the postseason, regardless of the tournament, is a major plus in the mind of Johnson, who is in his fourth season at LSU.

"It is good for this group because they had a really, really bitter taste in their mouth," he said. "Three weeks ago we were in a position to play our way into the NCAA Tournament, and we didn't."

Despite the stumble near the finish line, the Tigers closed things out in New Orleans with a different pace than they had all season – one that combined heart, determination and big efforts from freshmen like Anthony Hickey and Johnny O'Bryant to show Johnson that his team was growing up quicker than some anticipated.

"It's been a natural progression for us," Johnson said. "Nobody expected this team to be in a situation like they were two weeks ago.

"As long as they don't forget how hard they had to work to get to that point, they will have some success and be back in that situation again."

VIDEO: Johnson on facing the Ducks in the NIT


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