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LSU head coach Johnny Jones. (Associated Press)

LSU head coach Johnny Jones. (Associated Press)

Surprising Tigers face Bulldogs today in SEC tourney

Last Modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 9:48 PM

By Scooter Hobbs / American Press

LSU heads into the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament in Nashville, Tenn., at noon today as the No. 9 seed playing No. 8 Georgia.

That’s a bit better of a seed than the Tigers were predicted to carry in the preseason.

In fact, head coach Johnny Jones said if someone had told him the Tigers (18-11, 9-9 SEC) would break in conference play, “I would have hugged him.”

Of course, the last time the Tigers played Georgia, Jones needed a hug.

The Bulldogs (15-16, 9-9) beat LSU 67-58, which capped an 0-4 conference start for the Tigers.

“When we played them the first time, we weren’t playing our best basketball,” said LSU guard Charles Carmouche, who did not play at all the first time but has been a key element as the Tigers finished the regular season winning nine of their last 14.

He has topped the 20-point mark in five of his last six games.

“It feels a lot more comfortable playing them this time,” Carmouche said. “It should be a great game.”

Today’s winner will have the unenviable task of coming back at noon Friday to play regular-season champion Florida, which had a double-bye in the tournament, which started Wednesday night with the bottom four seeds playing.

LSU was predicted to be in that number before getting things turned around after the disheartening start under Jones in his first season.

“I wasn’t sure at the beginning of the season exactly where we’d be today,” Jones said. “But we’re a lot further along right now than I thought we would be, and I think they’ve made unbelievable strides.

“They’ve continued to get better. So I have not had a marker on them yet on where I think their limit is.”

Carmouche, who transferred to LSU from Memphis this season, wasn’t setting a ceiling either.

“I think we’ve improved a lot,” Carmouche said. “We feel good about coming into the tournament. I feel as though we all have the same opportunity, every team, playing at a neutral site, new beginning for everybody, try to get to the (NCAA) tournament. I feel good about our chances.”

Realistically, the Tigers are probably playing to solidify a bid to the National Invitation Tournament, possibly with a home game if the Tigers can beat Georgia.

“But this team never quits surprising me,” Jones said.

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