Scooter Hobbs column: Wouldn’t hurt LSU to add a win or two

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, May 21, 2024

You’ve heard it here before, of course, often somewhat flippantly. But the Southeastern Conference Tournament is about the most fun you can have watching meaningless baseball.

So, what if all of sudden the annual convergence in the Hoover Met, tucked away there in an upscale neighborhood of the Birmingham, Alabama, suburb, really does mean something?

The conference coaches, particularly LSU’s Jay Johnson, would like you to believe that, once again, it really doesn’t matter. Just a week’s worth of glorified, if very entertaining, postseason exhibitions that the fans take quite seriously.

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They can’t say it quite like that, of course. People are paying good money for tickets, many taking vacation time.

Never mind that, as per custom, this time next week nobody will remember who won it.

Once again, crowning a champion is secondary to the jockeying for position, picking up a spare win or two, to impress the selection committee when it starts picking teams for the NCAA Tournament.

That quibbling, however, or so their stories go, is just for seeding.

All 12 coaches in attendance, save for maybe Ole Miss’ Mike Bianco, would like to think they are safely in for at least the start of the Road to Omaha.

Maybe they are right.

Maybe 13 really is the magic number.

My question would be: Since when do teams get to self-pick their cut-off number to get into the tournament?

It was several weeks ago when a floundering LSU team leaked the information that it needed to get to 13 SEC victories to warrant NCAA Tournament entry.

That was their self-appointed goal, a carrot on a stick placed there by themselves.

But is 13 wins a guarantee?

You’d have history on your side. Since 2012 every SEC team with 13 conference wins and a Ratings Percentage Index of 30 or better has gotten an at-large invite.

But you can wear out Google and find no concrete evidence that 13 SEC wins automatically puts you in the NCAA Tournament.

LSU reached its own goal.

Danged if a three-game sweep of Ole Miss didn’t cap a late-season surge that landed the Tigers squarely on that 13-17 SEC record.

Mission accomplished? There was no dog-piling after the sweep, but a bid seemed to be assumed.

Johnson minced no words afterwards — it was hard to tell if he was supremely confident or simply lobbying — in declaring his Tigers’ résumé worthy for the NCAA Tournament, regardless of what happens this week.

“There’s no doubt we’re one of the top 10 or 15 teams in college baseball,” Johnson said. “That is not even debatable. If we had lost (Saturday) you could start peeling it back and finding a reason and give the committee an excuse not to put us in there. There’s no excuse now. This is one of the best teams in the country.”

That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.

The Tigers (36-20) open this morning against No. 6 seed Georgia and go into this week’s tournament seeded 11th.

But there may be extenuating circumstances when waving the vaunted 13 conference wins. There’s a logjam there. There will be five teams in Hoover with the same 13-17 SEC records: Alabama, Florida, Vanderbilt and South Carolina join LSU.

Assuming Ole Miss (11-19) doesn’t go on a deep run, that would put 11 SEC teams in the NCAA Tournament. The SEC has the record with 10 selections, but even the best conference in America has never had more than that.

Then again, the NCAA women’s softball committee took all 13 SEC teams, and probably would have found a place for Vanderbilt if it played the sport.

It no doubt annoys the other conferences. And — you never know — that might just the “excuse,” to use Johnson’s word, that the selection committee is looking for to start shucking some of them.

It’s one thing to take a team or two with 13-17 records. It might be another matter with five of them.

On that front the other four are rated ahead of LSU in the computer-driven RPI, which is one factor the committee consults, not the be all, end all. Three of the four won their SEC series against LSU — the Tigers and South Carolina did not play.

It doesn’t help that today’s first round is single elimination, which is blasphemy for a baseball tournament. But it’s what you get when you have to stick 12 teams into an eight-team bag (hang on — next year it will be 16 teams).

Bottom line: If you’re LSU you might want to stack up at least one more victory to be sure — just to remove all doubt and excuses for the committee to pass over the defending national champions.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at