COLUMN: Hope replaces assurance for LSU

With a second loss to Auburn Friday, LSU finds itself in NCAA Tournament purgatory. Now all the Tigers can do is wait and hope.

NASHVILLE - One minute you're up, the next you're not.

That's the way things go with inconsistent teams, and there probably isn't a more inconsistent team in the country, given talent on-hand, than LSU.

That's not to say the Tigers get in over their heads versus their opposition. Quite the opposite. LSU has developed a nasty, but deserved, reputation for rising up to the level needed to slay giants while sleepwalking or stumbling against inferior competition.

How else do you explain comeback wins, jam-packed with composure, at top-20 foes West Virginia and Arkansas in the same season as home losses to Auburn and Tennessee (and of course the grand stinker of them all, at Missouri)?

Well, Johnny Jones' crew was back it again in Music City Friday.

After receiving as many breaks as a team can last weekend to secure the four seed in the conference tournament and a double-bye, the SEC tourney waved bye-bye to LSU, bounced in the quarterfinals by that same Auburn team that finished its league slate with four wins in 18 tries.

Now LSU (22-10, 11-7) is left to endure what a handful of teams across America have to go through - sweating Selection Sunday.

"I think so. I really do," guard Keith Hornsby responded when asked if the Tigers' have done enough to go dancing. "Sure we've had some setbacks that people frown upon, but this is a tough league. The SEC is one of the best leagues in the country, and stuff like that happens. I think they [the Selection Committee] should consider and look at all the good stuff that we've done because we've done a whole lot of that."

Hornsby's correct on a number of fronts. But the question will quickly become for decision-makers: Does the good outweigh the bad for LSU this season?

With that answer hanging in the balance, players and coaches alike donning the purple and gold can no longer walk around with the same level of confidence that oozed from the team following the triumph in Fayetteville Saturday.

Suddenly the tune has changed. Where once there was assurance, there's now something far less substantial for the Tigers. Hope.

"We hope we can make the tournament," freshman Jalyn Patterson said after LSU's 73-70 overtime loss to Auburn, "but now we've just got to sit down and wait until Sunday."

Sophomore Tim Quarterman provided the song's next verse.

"I just hope we get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament," a somber Quarterman offered. "You can't really ask for anything more. Every team you play in the tournament is good, so whoever you play is going to be a dogfight. We've just got to wait and see.

"We've had a good season, and I'm proud of these guys. We toughed it out the whole season. We had a couple of hard setbacks and we've had some great moments. But now we have to wait and see."

Jones - whose team missed 19 free throws Friday, the most for any team in Division-I basketball since 2012 - acknowledged the team's position is a little more precarious than it was 24 hours ago.

But he remained steadfast that improved scheduling and good standing in the SEC are two big feathers in the Tigers' cap come Sunday.

"We had to make sure we played a tough schedule, and we did that during the offseason, scheduling some tough non-conference games," explained Jones. "And we play in one of the toughest conferences in the country. We went 11-7, finishing in the top three in one of the best leagues out there. We don't control our own destiny anymore. We're hopeful on Sunday that our name is called."

That "H" word was flying off the lips of LSU personnel fast and often. Probably because that's all LSU has left.

For what it's worth I believe the Bayou Bengals will crash the Big Dance and more than likely wind up in a play-in game in Dayton as an 11-seed. My rationale? The SEC will get more than three teams in this season as the league has been noticeably better. Should it come down to LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, I believe they'll be viewed in that order.

But there are bugaboos left, and they are real. Despite having two fewer wins than LSU, and having lost twice to the Tigers, Ole Miss has a higher RPI. Then of course there are conference tournament spoilers.

So it comes into focus why hope is the operative word surrounding LSU basketball.

That's a shame, too, because, like anyone that's watched the Tigers has sensed this season, there's an unshakable feeling that it didn't have to be this way.

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Here's additional content from TSD from Friday afternoon's game and the aftermath inside Bridgestone Arena.

Mickey's return didn't go as expected
Postgame Video: Johnny Jones
Postgame Video: Hornsby, Mickey



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