For years, and this is his ninth season at LSU, I've given basketball coach John Brady a hard time about his schedule.

Most of the time it was just teasing that he took semi-good natured. Other times it was a little more edgy on both sides, mine stemming from frustration simply because I didn't want to watch the Tigers play a schedule overloaded with Southland and SWAC opponents and his because it was his place to defend his schedule.

To his credit, in the last couple of years, Brady has upgraded. Last year, for example, his non-conference schedule included West Virginia, Utah and Ohio State.

The theory behind playing really tough opponents outside your league is twofold.

First, you stand a better chance of increasing your RPI ranking and bettering your team in the eyes of the all-important NCAA Tournament selection committee. The past decade is filled with teams that thought they had enough victories only to be denied a berth in the tournament because of a poor non-conference schedule.

The other reason is to make your team better. Play better teams, get better on the floor.

Southeastern Conference coaches argue that their league is tough enough and that 16 games in the SEC are enough to prepare a team for any level of postseason play.

Perhaps, but even tougher opponents before league play couldn't hurt.

Unless you lose five of those games by a total of 11 paltry points.

Such is the case for the beleaguered Tigers, who simply have become this season's tough-luck team in the year that Brady put together the toughest non-conference schedule of his LSU tenure.

LSU started off 2-0 with a win over a SWAC team (Southern) and a Southland team (Nicholls State). But then it scored a big victory over West Virginia, the darling of last spring's NCAA Tournament. Things were looking up. LSU got ranked 25th and things were looking great.

But then Houston came to town with a Baton Rouge kid, a JC transfer named Oliver Lafayette who simply went nuts, scoring 32 points, throwing up junk that had no business going in but did.

You had to think the one-point defeat was an aberration.

The Tigers came back to beat another Southland team (McNeese) and two from the Sun Belt (UNO and ULL) before sustaining its most lopsided loss of the season, by four points to Northern Iowa.

LSU should have won the game and it made you shake your head, but all was hardly lost.

The Tigers came back and crushed Arkansas-Monticello before playing Cincinnati in Las Vegas. This time a big lead disappeared and LSU came up short by three points, its second-worst loss of the season.

These guys couldn't catch a break, not even by getting Tack Minor back. No, the point guard who was forced to miss the entire first semester for academic violations last year, hurt his knee and needed surgery. At that late juncture it was clearly obvious he might as well take a redshirt for the entire season.

Eight days later, the Tigers closed out 2005 by squandering another big second-half lead and fell at Ohio State by two points, its third-worst loss of the season.

The Tigers then beat up on Tulane, but you had to wonder if against the big-name teams would this ever end?

Evidently not, because last Saturday LSU lost yet another – yes, yet another – second-half lead and fell to UConn on the Huskies' home away from home in Hartford, 67-66.

Five losses by 11 total points.

LSU is 8-5 as it enters SEC play. Its only senior, little guard Darrel Mitchell, missed what could have been the game-winner against UConn. The thought here is that sometime late in the season, the experiences from playing such a tough schedule early will result in him making that shot.

The same can be said for all those youngsters on LSU's roster, from sophomore Glen Davis to redshirt-freshmen Garrett Temple and Tyrus Thomas to freshmen Tasmin Mitchell and Ben Voogd.

The tough defeats sting, but they will pay off. At 8-5, LSU will have to win 10 or more games in the league and probably a couple more in the SEC Tournament, but the prediction here is it will, largely because of the experience it gained from playing all those tough opponents.


Lee Feinswog is the author of "Tales From The LSU Sidelines," a Baton Rouge sportswriter and host of the television show Sports Monday. Reach him at (225) 926-3256 or lee@sportsbatonrouge.com. His newest book, "HoopDaddy" is available at www.HoopDaddy.net.

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