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Strong finish: LSU’s NCAA Tournament hopes are hanging by a thread

The LSU basketball team might not need to win the SEC Tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament, but they have to advance pretty far to ensure an at-large bid.

The Tigers have no one to blame for that predicament but themselves.

This year has been like a roller coaster for the LSU basketball team – a season that’s been loaded with ups and downs. Just about every projection has the Tigers outside of the Field of 68 at press-time, but most experts concede that LSU can still reach the tournament if they beat Kentucky this weekend and/or close out the conference tournament with a bang.

Of course, the Tigers could take all doubt out of the equation by winning the SEC Tournament and earning an automatic bid into the dance.

It didn’t have to be this way for LSU, but the Tigers were just gluttons for punishment throughout the entire year.

LSU doesn’t have a sparkling resume compared to others on the bubble. Outside of a couple wins in SEC play and the star power of Ben Simmons, the Tigers have nothing that the NCAA Selection Committee values. That’s likely going to be a big problem for LSU when their fate is decided.To me, there are five games that Johnny Jones and his staff wish they could have back, and it all starts with what happened in late-November.

After starting the year 3-0 against cupcake city, LSU lost three straight games to subpar competition. All three are contests that, looking back, the Tigers should have won.

The loss to Marquette was forgivable at the time, and it’s still not the worst thing that’s happened to the team this season. It was a one-point game on a neutral site, and it was a freshman-laden team’s first game away from home. But the next two games were pretty bad. The loss to North Carolina State will hurt LSU, because the Wolfpack have done next to nothing since then, owning just a 14-15 record overall and a 4-12 mark in ACC play.

That’s a game that LSU gave away, and one Johnny Jones and his staff  will regret.

The next two games on the list are no-brainers.

There is no way on earth that any team with Ben Simmons should lose to the College of Charleston at all, much less by 12 points. It’d be OK if the Cougars were respectable, but they’re not. They’re in seventh place in the Colonial Athletic Association, trailing the likes of Hofstra, William & Mary, Towson and Northeastern.

Losing that game would be like LSU football losing to Troy. That could not and should not happen – although it actually almost did once in November of 2008 (but was averted by a heroic comeback by Jarrett Lee).

The Houston game also does Johnny Jones no favors, because it’s a game that LSU squandered away with sluggish defensive play. It’s not as bad as the others, because Houston actually is a 20-win team, but it’s not particularly good, either.

The last loss that makes my list is one of its most recent – the 16-point shellacking at Tennessee.The NCAA Selection Committee grades non-conference games heavily, yes. But it also keeps tabs on who is entering March playing quality basketball.

To lose to a 13-16 Volunteers team via blowout is cringe worthy, and what makes it worse is that LSU didn’t seem to even care that it happened.

The Tigers have to get hot in a hurry if they want to make it to the Big Dance, and it’s their own fault. If you lose to Marquette, NC-State, Charleston, Houston and Tennessee, you don’t necessarily deserve to have things handed to you anyway.

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