DEVILLE: Handle with care

The LSU Fighting Tigers storm into the postseason riding a wave of enthusiasm after claiming the program's first outright SEC title since the 1985 season.

Already pretty much assured of a No. 3 seed in the Big Dance in a little more than a week, coach John Brady is approaching the postseason tournament with more than a little caution.

In past years, the Tigers have needed the luxury of a win or two in the conference tournament to inch their way up the NCAA Tournament seeding. This year, with a 22-7 overall record, a 14-2 league mark and more than enough quality wins, Brady's team isn't relying much on the SEC Tournament, which opens in Nashville on Thursday.

LSU eeked out a 55-52 win over Ole Miss Saturday, mainly due to the fact the Tigers were without the services of freshman Tyrus Thomas for a second straight game. Thomas suffered a high-ankle sprain against Kentucky and missed the South Carolina game and the season finale versus the Rebels. Brady said he will not take any chances when it comes to playing Thomas in the SEC Tournament.

"He just got off crutches (Wednesday),'' Brady told's Andy Katz.. "If there's any question, then we'll hold him out of the tournament.''

Brady has won 26 of his last 32 SEC games and won his second SEC title in six seasons. But a 2-3 mark in the NCAA Tournament has the ninth-year coach eyeing the Big Dance as the Tigers' top priority.

"Our mission is to win that first game in the NCAA Tournament,'' Brady said.

The Tigers, who had clinched their first outright SEC championship in 21 seasons when Tennessee lost to Kentucky on Wednesday, completed their second straight conference season unbeaten at home. The Tigers have won 17 consecutive SEC games at home.

LSU opens SEC Tournament play Friday night at 6:30 CST talking on the winner of Vanderbilt-Auburn's opening round match. The Tigers snuck away with a 71-67 win over the Commodores in Nashville and swept the season series with Auburn, most recently beating the Plainsmen 65-61 in Auburn.

If victorious, LSU would move on to play the Florida vs. Arkansas/Georgia winner at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday. The finals are slated for noon on Sunday, March 12.

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