Last Modified: Monday, March 17, 2014 11:46 AM
The general consensus on LSU basketball this season was that the over-under for success or disappointment would be a trip to the NCAA tournament.
So now the Tigers will spend Selection Sunday hoping to get a call from the NIT, which certainly isn’t as automatic as it once was for teams from name-brand conferences.
LSU will be sweating it out, in other words. Last year the expected call never came for an LSU team that had the same SEC record as this one (9-9) and also went 1-1 in the conference tournament.
Speaking of which, the SEC is becoming an NIT-kind-of conference. The league figures to get only Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee in the NCAA tournament.
There will likely be four other SEC teams preening for the NIT today — Georgia, Ole Miss, Missouri and Arkansas for sure.
You may be as surprised as I was to learn Saturday that there is such a thing as NIT bracketology. But I guess you can find most anything on the Internet these days.
Anyway, the site I uncovered, which looked well thought-out enough to carry some credibility, had LSU as one of the 32 teams in, one of four No. 5 seeds. In this scenario the Tigers would travel for an opening-round game at Southern Miss.
Things could change. The NIT now has automatic bids for those conference regular-season champions from one-bid leagues that don’t win the conference tournament.
The more of those you have, the fewer teams the NIT can take on name recognition alone.
Why these leagues would stage a conference tournament that more often than not seems to eliminate its best team from NCAA consideration is anybody’s guess. But a best guess would be because ESPN told them to do it.
That’s a sermon for another day and doesn’t really apply to the SEC anyway.
At any rate, the NCAA certainly won’t be calling LSU today.
So what do we make of this LSU team in Johnny Jones’ second season?
It certainly had aspirations of dancing in March in the NCAA tournament, not begging for an NIT bid and chance to fight it out for the honor of being the 69th best team in America.
Certainly, the talent was upgraded with an athletic team that could be highly entertaining at times, agonizingly frustrating to watch at others.
Their road woes were well documented, but just about every SEC team had that sad tale.
Jones has recruited well, no question about that. That makes it all the stranger that this year’s team finished the SEC with the same record as a year ago.
Watching them, this year looked like a much better team. It would tease you. But it still has to learn how to win.
This week’s SEC tournament might have summed up the season for LSU.
Win one (Alabama), lose one (Kentucky), break even. Not bad, not great.
The Tigers spent the regular season doing basically the same thing.
There would be seeming breakthrough games — whipping Kentucky at home 87-82, which was more dominating than the score indicated, then validating it with a 88-74 win over Arkansas.
They seemed ready to separate from a mediocre pack in the middle of the SEC — then promptly flopped in maybe their worst game of the year in a 91-78 loss at Georgia.
Or there was the breakthrough of finally winning another road game, in the clutch, at Vanderbilt — only to follow it with a loss at home to Georgia.
One step forward always seemed to be followed by a bigger step backward.
Take the SEC tournament. LSU dominated Alabama, which wasn’t very good but had beaten the Tigers in their only regular-season meeting.
They had to feel good about a matchup with Kentucky in their second game. LSU kicked talented but often dysfunctional UK pretty good at home and scared the Big Blue out of the Wildcats before losing in overtime at big, bad Rupp Arena.
And LSU came out on fire in Atlanta Friday night to take an early 22-14 lead.
The final wasn’t close — UK 85, LSU 67.
Another step back.
So they wait on the NIT. And hope.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org