FEINSWOG: Things heating up for men's team

As the Tigers head to Nashville this week for the Southeastern Conference Tournament, they have within their grasp a chance to set themselves up in a very positive way for the NCAA Tournament.

LSU, which finished the SEC regular season a remarkable 14-2, is the favorite to win the tournament.

But that's not the most important thing.

Truth is, unless the SEC winner is a team whose very NCAA fate depends on winning the championship, the title game doesn't mean much.

In other words, the two SEC teams in next Sunday's title game will already have their spots secured on the big board by the time that game is played.

What that means is getting to Sunday is the most important thing.

If that happens, LSU will be 24-7. Assuming that the Tigers' RPI ranking goes up a notch or two this week, they'll then be in a position to secure a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That is no small thing, especially in the first and second rounds.

All that, however, is highly speculative, because to get there LSU has to win Friday and Saturday in a tournament that annually shows us the norm rarely holds true to form. Nonetheless, if LSU is playing on Sunday, coach John Brady should be a happy camper.

There is another side to all this. LSU is pretty nicked up right now. Senior guard Darrel Mitchell has a sore ankle. Freshman phenom Tyrus Thomas may not even play in the SEC Tournament because of his sprained ankle. Big man Glen Davis, who is sure to be named the league's MVP this week, is simply beaten up.

But that's how you're supposed to feel in March when you've been through the battles of major college basketball season.

There was speculation last week about how much Mitchell should play Saturday against Ole Miss, whether he should be rested in his final home game. Yeah, he rested: Three minutes out of 40. So did Davis: He also got three minutes off.

That's because even though LSU had clinched the league title, this seeding thing is really important when you have a team that can make a legitimate run at the national championship.

Here's what the No. 3 seed gets in the tournament: In the first round, it plays the 14th seed, perennially one of the biggest upsets. In the second round, the No. 3 gets the 6-11 winner. Bet on the 6.

The No. 2 seed, however, plays the No. 15 seed in the first round. In the second round, it gets the 7-10 winner, and plenty of 10 seeds have advanced over the year.

After that, as the preacher told Black Bart in Blazing Saddles, "Son, you're on your own."

But it's a nice problem to have.

Speaking of problems, LSU plays the winner of the Thursday game between Auburn and Vanderbilt. Auburn is getting better and better and is just the kind of team that can screw up a bracket. Two weeks ago, at Auburn, LSU escaped with a 65-61 victory. Vanderbilt, which blew a 16-point lead to Tennessee this past Saturday, lost to LSU at home, 77-66, four days after LSU's trip to Auburn. Vandy has a theoretical advantage this week because the SEC Tournament is in Nashville, but not a homecourt advantage because the games are not being played on campus.

LSU did just enough Saturday to get past Ole Miss, 55-52. Earning that first-round SEC bye is nice, because one extra day can't hurt Mitchell and Davis and friends.

But make no mistake: This SEC Tournament has potentially huge implications for the Tigers, who have a chance to be playing long into the remainder of this month. What happens this week could have a huge bearing on just how long.


Lee Feinswog is 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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