By Trey Mongrue
OK, so we won’t know anything official until Sunday, but lets be real here: LSU’s 81-78 victory at Arkansas pretty much punched a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
Résumé-wise, the Razorbacks were LSU’s latest RPI Top 50 victim, joining the likes of West Virginia and Georgia. And because of Ole Miss’ loss to Vanderbilt, the Tigers finished fourth in the Southeastern Conference season standings. An important feat in itself, but it also means that they get the double-bye in this week’s SEC Tournament.
Keep in mind, LSU has all of that going for it in addition to having Athletic Director Joe Alleva being a part of the committee that puts together the final field of 68 teams.
Basically, I’d bet the house (your house, not mine) on the Tigers hearing their name called on Selection Sunday.
Keith Hornsby called his buzzer beating three-pointer the shot of his life, and he’s right, but it doesn’t stop with just him.
For a program that has exhausted all of its health insurance due to ‘wait ‘til next year’ last Saturday’s win must have been vindicating for Johnny Jones and every player, staff member or fan that has crossed paths with LSU basketball since the decade began.
Five years ago, LSU was in the very same Bud Walton Arena but the result was hardly similar.
Relying on walk-ons like Zach Kinsley, Daron Populist and even seldom-used Chris Beattie, the Tigers stood little chance against Arkansas on that night and were thrashed, 87-52. It was the most lopsided defeat that the Tigers would suffer that season and, as many know, there were a lot of losses to choose from.
A team that was less than a year removed from leading eventual champ-North Carolina in the second round of the 2009 NCAA tournament would win just 11 games. LSU was at rock bottom and it was a long climb out of the abyss.
In a sport where the contenders rely heavily on the quick fixes that the one-and-done players represent, LSU – largely not by choice – saw its talent cupboard slowly improve with four year players, junior college transfers and even a tuba player. The Kinsleys and the Populists turned into Andre Stringers and Justin Hamiltons, which turned into Johnny O’Bryants and Anthony Hickeys.
Somewhere amidst all of that, Trent Johnson turned into Johnny Jones.
Every season came with the same mantra, “just wait ‘till next year.” The quality of play would gradually increase, but “next year” never came.
Not even a month ago, it seemed to be the same song and dance when a second loss to Texas A&M seemingly put the Tigers on a direct route to the NIT. Heck, things looked sketchy after last week’s loss to Tennessee.
But as has often been the case for the Tigers this season, they did the unexpected and became just the second team to beat the Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena this season – without Jordan Mickey no less.
Call this team inconsistent, depth-deprived, Jekyll and Hyde, whatever. I’ve pretty much given up on trying to pigeon hole this team into a singular description, but I’ll try one more time.
At long last, next year is finally here.