Big Dance awaits

After the dust settled from Sunday's NCAA Selection Show, the LSU men's basketball team is back on the practice floor preparing for the opening round of play in Greensboro on Thursday. With Butler on tap, the Tigers are buckling down for a run to Detroit.

When LSU dropped a 67-57 game to Mississippi State on March 14, bucking them from the conference tourney, the season-ending skid officially came to a halt.


The final stretch was not pretty. Trent Johnson's crew dropped three of their final four games by eight points or more, and the March 4 and March 7 losses to Vanderbilt and Auburn were the Tigers' first pair of back-to-back contests dropped in nearly two months.


Despite winning thirteen conference games in a row en route to taking the regular season Southeastern Conference crown, the selection committee's evaluation reflected heavily on the team's final four games.


"Losing always effects how you're seeded, especially the last three to four games," said junior forward Tasmin Mitchell. "It's still a lack of respect people have for the SEC schools, though."


Senior guard Garrett Temple, who, alongside Mitchell, helped catapult LSU into the Final Four in 2006, shared much of the same disdain for the process, which he plans to turn into motivation come Thursday.


"It's a little bit of disrespect," he said. "We did lose three of four, but we had lost that hunger after we beat Kentucky. We had a sigh of relief. Now with being seeded eighth, with no tomorrow, that hunger will be back.


"The committee does look at the hot teams and the cold teams and the teams that have been playing well and have not, and we haven't been playing well as of late, especially offensively" added Temple. "We got a little complacent. We clinched the SEC early and haven't played as well as we should have been, so obviously that had something to do with that selection."


While Temple and Mitchell own tournament experience, Johnson, who is taking his third different team to the dance, said that he will tell his upperclassmen to turn a new leaf with the coming round of games.


"I wouldn't have them reflect on [2006] because this is a different team," he said. "That's all in the past. This is all different; this is new. One of the things that I'm a strong advocate of is that this is the NCAA tournament. We just got through the SEC tournament, but the game is the most important thing.


"We need to continue doing the things that we've done all year long to make ourselves successful and try to enjoy it."


Temple, whose lockdown performance on Duke sharpshooter J.J. Redick in the 2006 tournament cemented him as one of the nation's premier defenders, said that his second visit to the dance should not be much different, mentally, than his first.


"It doesn't change that much; as a freshman, my mindset was that we were in the NCAA tournament and to just play," he said. "It wasn't much pressure, just play. That year we were a four seed. This year we are an eight seed. We feel like we have something to prove.


"We just have to let the other guys know that there is no tomorrow," added Temple. "You can only worry about the present because it's one-game elimination, and that's the end of the season. We just have to take it one game at a time."


Mitchell, whose 2008 season represented in large part his return from a season ending injury the year prior, said that the team is simply ready for Thursday morning's 12:20 p.m. EST tipoff.


"You just want to throw the ball up and play basketball," he said. "Every team right now is saying that [they] are going to win the championship. It's the NCAA tournament, and anything is possible. We are going to put it out there like it is our last game. I am excited to be there, but now it is business time."


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