Harris: No way to forecast LSU’s future

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELDLSU men's basketball coach Johnny Jones discusses a play with a referee during the Tigers' 74-52 loss to Florida last season.
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELDLSU men's basketball coach Johnny Jones discusses a play with a referee during the Tigers' 74-52 loss to Florida last season.

By MATTHEW HARRIS

Advocate sportwriter

There’s an oft-repeated axiom that reporters loathe math.

Oddly, though, my fellow scribes like to scan reams of data from Ken Pomeroy, Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi in assessing the postseason chances for a horde of NCAA men’s basketball programs.

We toss around terms such as SOS, RPI, S-Curve and offensive efficiency so often our stories turn into articles from peer-reviewed science journals.

Let’s make a concession and stop. Especially when it comes to LSU.

That’s not a criticism of the Tigers, but a simple nod to reality. No, LSU was never expected to enter the conversation among the NCAA tournament selection committee. Yet talk of an NIT bid had been whispered, almost like the off-handed joke that rings too true when you’ve had too many Abita Ambers.

After a 10-point loss Tuesday to Tennessee, let’s stifle the speculation with Alabama, currently sitting in second place in the SEC, arriving Saturday.

The notion stems less from LSU than it does from a selection process that’s more transparent and more information at our disposal.

More than ever, fans and pundits can peruse the raw data and draw conclusions, even if they’re premature or unfounded.

Suggesting LSU, which was picked to finish 11th in the SEC, might make a push toward an unexpected NIT trip was only a recent development. That the Tigers forced us to broach the idea is testament enough.

The Tigers returned six members of last season’s roster, and lost 42.1 percent of its scoring and 45.5 percent of rebounding production.

Outside of Johnny O’Bryant III, the LSU frontcourt was threadbare, explaining why center Andrew Del Piero — who averaged only three minutes per game a year ago — has started in 17 games. At guard, freshman Malik Morgan has shown a knack for timely buckets and rebounding, and the foul-prone defense common for his age.

So it makes sense Jones pauses before explaining if LSU lives up to his expectations. After an 0-4 SEC start, the tone is similar to an appeal toward investing in long-term securities: Steady growth until maturation.

But wins in five of their past six games, pulling to .500 in SEC play with a victory against lowly Mississippi State, spurred the whispers. Could LSU slip into the NIT, even in a roundly down season for its conference?

There’s no doubt now Jones’ approach was the most rationale: Try to improve seeding for the SEC tournament and Nashville. Then see what happens.

Five game remains for LSU, which after Tuesday sits in ninth place, and the Tigers hover at No. 107 in the RPI against the No. 135 schedule in the nation. Those metrics can improve down the stretch, though. Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas A&M and Ole Miss all reside in the top 100 of the RPI, ranging from No. 33 to No. 77 to create several shots at quality wins.

It’s almost assured the NIT chatter will start if LSU knits together another winning streak. Just not an outcome anyone can feel secure forecasting.