Back to the drawing board

LSU fumbled away another chance to establish itself as a surefire NCAA Tournament team on Wednesday. Now the Tigers are left to try and put the pieces together one last time.

Keith Hornsby, minutes after notching a career high in points, was as despondent as they come.

In a dark corner of the postgame interview room Wednesday night, where Hornsby always holds court, nothing at all lit up on the junior's face following the Tigers' shocking 78-63 home loss to Tennessee.

"I'm so disappointed right now," he managed. "It's hard to really dive into it."

And so it is and has been this season with LSU (21-9, 10-7).

Just about every time the Bayou Bengals have achieved a modicum of success, the walls come tumbling down, which also accurate describes LSU's defense versus the Volunteers (15-14, 7-10), which shot a ridiculous 18-of-26 (69.2%) in the second half to end a five-game losing streak.

LSU's three-game winning streak came to an abrupt halt, too, as have declarations that Johnny Jones' crew is a shoo-in for the NCAA Tournament, something Jones suggested in postgame interviews his players didn't discuss or believe coming in.

At any rate the joke is on those, including this reporter, that bought into the Tigers having turned a corner, equipped to move forward and do damage with a jelling starting lineup and key players contributing consistently.

They reminded on Wednesday that they still know how to pull the rug out from under believers with the best of 'em.

That's not typically a characteristic of a team headed to the Big Dance. And now, with a game Saturday at Arkansas and the SEC Tournament remaining, LSU may pay the price for another head-shaking misstep.

The Tigers are currently tied for fifth with Georgia at 10-7 in league play. Texas A&M, which holds the tie-breaker over LSU, and Ole Miss, the other way around, are both a game clear of the purple and gold at 11-6.

What's it all mean?

The only way for LSU to get back to fourth for the SECs in Nashville is for the Tigers to win in Fayetteville over the weekend and have the Rebels lose at home to Vanderbilt.

It would be noteworthy if one of those two things happened, so two feels like a stretch.

Much more likely is that LSU will be either the fifth or sixth seed in the Music City, leaving itself with work to do to scrap out the program's firth berth in the NCAA Tournament since 2009.

It's not impossible. Heck, you'd probably even like the Tigers' chances of winning their first-round game on Thursday. But that's not the point.

The point is that now that win has to happen.

There was never much comfort in assuming the SEC, which has gotten three teams into the dance each of the last two seasons, would get in six teams. Now LSU is squarely in the cross heirs as the team that could get left out.

Considering how poorly Tennessee had been playing, it didn't have to be that way.

Unless you've been watching all season, in which case it fits right in with the whole frustrating puzzle Jones & Co. may never put together.

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