Tourney Talk: LSU, SEC Scenarios

TSD publisher Ben Love sat down with LSU basketball radio analyst Ricky Blanton to run down where the Tigers and other SEC teams stand in relation to the Big Dance and the difference in seeds in the conference tournament.

Time is becoming a factor for LSU (21-9, 10-7), which has only one regular season game left - at Arkansas Saturday afternoon - and the conference tournament to prove it belongs in the field of 68.

To discuss where the Tigers are in relation to other SEC bubble teams like Georgia, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, TSD spoke with Ricky Blanton, former LSU player and a radio analyst for the LSU Sports Radio Network.

In the Q&A below Blanton gave his take on the difference in certain seeds for the SEC Tournament as well as what factors the selection committee for the NCAA Tournament genuinely considers.

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Ben Love: Obviously LSU’s loss Wednesday night hurt the Tigers’ cause, but three of the four SEC teams that still need to solidify spots in the NCAA Tournament lost in the midweek. How do you evaluate the landscape of LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M and Ole Miss with one game to go?

Ricky Blanton: I think it’s very interesting. There’s a lot of suspense for the league because this is a year the league could possibly have six teams in the NCAA Tournament. But one thing we’re seeing is you have to play your schedule out. One way to avoid any conversation of being on the bubble, or not being sure is by winning games.

Those teams you referenced have lost games, so they’re going to have to reconcile come Saturday, all of them, and try to get back in the win column. If you don’t, as you go in one direction, all the other teams across the country that may be on the bubble or in a state of flux, they may be going in another direction. So it’s imperative these four teams win their games Saturday if they can. If not it puts a lot of pressure on them when it comes to the SEC Tournament.

BL: There are a couple of factors at play when it comes to making the NCAA Tournament. One of them you have no control over, and that’s other conferences. In your own conference, there’s your seeding, your win totals and how you’re playing down the stretch. All those teams we just mentioned are going to be relatively the same seed and have similar win totals. So how important is how you’re playing in the final stretch? How much does the committee weigh that?

RB: I think every year you’ll hear committee members or the committee president tell you it’s very important. In their list of criteria, whether they want it to be a positive or negative, they always bring up the fact that so-and-so was playing well in the last five or so-and-so was playing poorly in the last three. So you want to avoid giving the committee any ammunition from a negative standpoint to maybe throw that your way if things are going well.

Winning solves everything, within your conference and (in the eyes of the committee) it eliminates a variable right away because you’re on the winning track and you have momentum. In LSU’s case it’s monumental they try to win Saturday, and if they don’t they still need to play well. And then when they go to the SEC Tournament, if they’re going in with a two-game losing streak, I think they’re going to have to win a game.

BL: There’s a perception that LSU’s chances may be buoyed because with Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey the team has some star power. The tournament wants to have high-caliber players like that in and, all things equal, that may help LSU and push it over the threshold. Do you buy into that line of thinking?

RB: I buy into the fact that they have two special players in Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, yeah. I think they’re very good players. I don’t buy the fact that there’s some kind of wow factor for those guys at the tournament. I think this thing is too big. Within our country people follow it. The committee’s well-versed and they know what they’re doing. I don’t think they can get away with that as being one of the criteria. That would be looked upon negatively if that were the case. It’s going to be based on how you’re playing and what you’ve done over the course of the season.

BL: What’s the difference between the path of a five-seed and the path of a six-seed in the SEC Tournament?

RB: I think it’s huge. It’s situational how big it is for each team, but if you look at the four teams we’ve been talking about, with the exception of Texas A&M, the minutes that the top five guys on those other teams log are off the charts. LSU probably leads of those three teams in minutes played by their first five, but Georgia and Ole Miss are close.

So when you talk about being the four-seed and not playing until Friday as opposed to being the five- or six-seed, when you play Thursday and it may be a tough game where four of your five starters log 38 minutes. Then you have to turn around Friday and repeat it. And in one of those cases it might not be a full 24 hours rest. Boy, that’s tough.

So that four spot will carry a lot of weight for whatever team gets there because it’s going to be much more beneficial if you can win Friday and then play Saturday. As a five-seed, you win Thursday and win Friday and then Saturday is three games in three days. That’s a different animal.

BL: I suspect most will look at it this way for LSU. They don’t expect a win at Arkansas. Obviously if LSU does win that one, the Tigers are in the NCAA Tournament. But hypothetically let’s say they lose at Arkansas and then they win their first game as a five- or six-seed. Would that be enough?

RB: I don’t know. And I’ll go back to what you said earlier, there’s that variable you can’t control in other conferences and their teams. (LSU Director of Athletics) Joe Alleva mentioned earlier in the year he thought the team needed 11 wins in the SEC in order to get in to the NCAA Tournament. I wasn’t clear if that was 11 wins total or 11 wins in the regular season.

But to your scenario, if LSU loses Saturday and then wins its first game, that gives you 11 wins, albeit 10 of them in the league and one of them in the tournament. So I don’t know. I do know this. It would be awfully close if that were to happen. In a perfect world LSU would love to win Saturday, but if they don’t, they’d probably like to win two in the SEC Tournament to get a level of comfort. As an LSU fan I wouldn’t feel as comfortable with only winning one as opposed to winning two in Nashville assuming you don’t win in Fayetteville.

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