I've been seeing a lot of talk about LSU's upcoming tournament seeding. And why not, really? We're 23-4, and 11-1 in the SEC. We've put up gaudy numbers and we're currently running away with the SEC regular season crown. This has people talking, and the most lofty expectation I've seen among LSU fans hopes that we could be ranked as high as a 3-seed when the tournament matchups are announced.
Slow down. We don't have anything wrapped up yet except the SEC West, and while divisional champs have never been left out, this is clearly not the SEC of ten or twelve years ago. I don't know how many tournament selections the conference is slotted for, but we could still very well play our way back down to the bubble.
Let's keep two key points in mind:
- The Selection Committee rewards teams who have quality wins, and conversely punishes teams that do not, and
- We have, to this point, an astonishing lack of wins against teams destined to go the tournament.
A gaudy overall record and a division title in the SEC don't go as far as they once did. When I was a kid, the conference was littered with genuine contenders. It may have been the second best conference in the country (behind the always stellar ACC) in days gone by. Heck, even just a couple years ago the SEC was really tough.
This year it's abysmal. Just by way of illustration, please notice that we have 11 wins. We've beaten 8 different teams in the conference. How many of those wins would be labeled "quality wins"? By which I mean, how many times this season have we beaten a team that is, right now, a safe bet to make it into the tournament?
That's right. The answer right now to the question of how many teams we've beaten are safe bets to make it to the tournament is "zero".
Out of the conference, we've beaten a lot of garbage and then Washington State. We thought at the time that Washington State would be a quality win, but they are 14-13 overall and 6-9 in their conference and their options for going to the NCAA tournament are to either win their conference tournament or buy tickets through their local Ticketmaster.
In the conference, we have played and beaten Mississippi State twice. We thought that would look like quality wins, but thanks to MSU's slide of losing 2 of 3 since losing to us, they have played their way out of the NCAA tournament and now need to finish strong to get back in the conversation.
Our best wins on the season are a win at home against South Carolina and a win on the road against Tennessee. Both of those are nice wins, but those are bubble teams right now. They can go either way depending on how they finish up.
Other than that, we've beaten Arkansas x2, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, and Ole Miss x2. Ole Miss and Auburn might make it to the NIT. Then again, now that the NIT takes a lot more automatic bids, it's actually a lot harder to make it to the NIT than it used to be.
Heck, if we weren't running away with the SEC right now it would be hard to argue we even deserved to be on the bubble. So when you see some predictions of us being an 8-seed, don't get upset. It's just the truth right now. We're a hot team, and I'm sure no big team in the country wants to get us in the second round of the tournament, but I can't honestly say we've earned better than the 8-seed if the committee takes "quality wins" into account.
People who are projecting us to be #3 or #4 seeds are just not seeing the reality of how poor our schedule is. Granted, we've been hurt a bit by the lesser SEC teams getting upsets over the better SEC teams. It would have been better for us if MSU had beaten Bama and Auburn, even though we play all three of them. Two good wins over a highly regarded MSU team is worth a lot more than 4 wins over the three of them if they're all consider mediocre.
We still have a chance to improve our lot in the tournament. We just have to keep winning. We get Florida tonight, and then Kentucky on Saturday. If we win those games, it will be a lot harder to say we have zero quality wins. Chances are that at least 3 out of South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee are going to the tournament. With wins over all four of those and a strong finish, I could see us getting perhaps as high as a #5 or even a #4 seed. And who knows, we could end up getting that precious #3 seed if we win the SEC Tournament on top of it.
Or if we lose our last 4 games and then get quickly eliminated in the tournament, we could end up in the NIT.