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The Time Is Now for LSU Basketball

So you wanna be a contender? Start by handling the teams you're supposed to.

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

It's time for this LSU basketball team to make its move.

Fresh off a road sweep in tough environments with key learning moments while routing Florida and edging past Vanderbilt, there's no more excuses.

Consider this: the Tigers' next three opponents (South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn) are a combined 5-13 in league play and 29-27 overall.

It's the '27 Yankees lineup of #SECBasketballFever, since apparently South Carolina is good enough to beat No. 15 Iowa State on a neutral floor but promptly lose five conference games, State can win two league games but flop against the Arkansas State Fighting John Bradys and McNeese at home and Auburn is a hot mess.

Here's the respective RPI and KenPom ratings of each:

S. Carolina: 116, 51
Auburn: 134, 145
MSU: 198, 202

Even the game following that gauntlet is against Alabama, all of 12-6 with 3 top 100 RPI wins and .500 in the SEC, and that's at home. Only the State game is on the road until Valentine's Day. There is no easier stretch of basketball, even by SEC standards, than the impending two weeks.

There's absolutely zero reason LSU shouldn't win all four and be a ranked 19-4 team when No. 1 Kentucky comes to town on Feb. 10. Yet even as I type that, I cringe.

It's certainly easy to say the Tigers should reach such a huge matchup with buzz like that, but I've seen this story - or some version of it - with this program before. Too many times, even and especially extending to the still-young Johnny Jones era, have I watched LSU sap its fan base of momentum just when it was prepared to prosper.

Hell, they almost pulled it off again with that Vandy escape on Saturday, shooting horribly for 30 minutes and needing some truly awful plays by the Dores to prevail in overtime. And Vanderbilt is a 1-5 team in the SEC. Plus, there's reason to believe LSU could stumble to another bad team, considering it owns losses to Clemson and Missouri (average KenPom rating of 140, average RPI of 120) and has blown a double-digit second-half lead at home.

My point is not to be too dour, just the opposite. Okay, so you want to be a tournament team, a "Team on the Rise"? Here's your chance to look the part. There's no daunting road games in this stretch, no team with talent near comparable to LSU and likely a nice chunk of fan support that should make the PMAC a solid homecourt advantage, particularly since we are still weeks away from first pitch at Alex Box. Not to mention, LSU will be favored in each of these games.

We're on the back half of Jones' third year at the helm. He's got two future NBA players, a versatile backcourt and the likely 6th Man of the Year in the SEC (Quarterman). The Tigers are off to a 4-2 start in the SEC, the fans desperately want a hoops winner (especially when you consider the sliding state of the women's program), and there's an elite recruiting class coming in next fall.

There's already plenty of hype building and even more ready to be unleashed. No better time to start living up to it than now.