On a sobering day for the Southeastern Conference, the LSU men’s basketball team learned its season won’t continue in the National Invitation Tournament.
Three days after Florida eliminated the Tigers from the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament, coach Johnny Jones’ staff met at the team’s practice facility Sunday to watch the selection show, where it formally found out the program missed the cut.
“It’s just disappointing,” Jones said Sunday night. “It’s disappointing to see other teams keep playing games, and your season’s over and your seniors have played their last games.”
The NIT was the lone postseason tournament LSU was interested in, passing on bids to recently created events such as the College Basketball Invitational and CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
“We didn’t consider any other tournament,” Jones said.
Entering Sunday, LSU (19-12) sat in a precarious position by sitting at No. 86 in the RPI, according to CBS analyst Jerry Palm’s calculations.
Last season, the Tigers had a similar rating of No. 84 and squeaked into the 32-team field as a No. 6 seed, setting up a meeting against Oregon that turned into a 96-76 rout.
A year later, circumstances were different.
For the majority of the season, the SEC was rated as the worst power conference in the nation — a notion seemingly affirmed when it only placed a paltry three schools in the 68-team field. And it took a run by No. 3 seed Ole Miss to the SEC tournament title to secure that number.
In all likelihood, LSU needed four of its conference brethren to get into the big dance to allay any concern. In past seasons, the SEC hasn’t received more than four NIT bids, but with bubble teams Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama — clumped together in RPI spots No. 57 to No. 63 — left out of the NCAA tournament, LSU was in a bind.
There also was a considerable gap between the Crimson Tide at No. 63 in the RPI and LSU, a void filled by a slew of bubble teams left out of the NCAA tournament and in front of the Tigers. Compounding matters, 10 regular-season conference champions were eliminated in their league tournaments — an unusually high number — and received automatic bids, narrowing the number of slots for teams in 70s, 80s and 90s of the RPI.
Asked whether the postseason woes for the SEC could be an indictment of the conference, Jones said a convincing case could be made for its members’ worthiness.
“I can just tell you that you can look and have an argument for our conference and a lot of other teams that are in it,” Jones said. “But if you don’t win the tournament, you leave it up to others to make certain decisions that are out of your hands.”
While LSU, picked to finish 11th in the SEC, exceeded expectations with a .500 regular-season finish in conference play, its nonconference slate left something to be desired at No. 233 nationally, according to Palm’s data. Yet the Tigers weren’t alone: Ole Miss, Auburn, Mississippi State and South Carolina had out-of-conference slates ranked below No. 270.
Struggling against those slates dragged down the rest of the league, offsetting tougher dockets taken on by Florida (No. 6), Tennessee (43) and Kentucky (59).
“You have to look at the schedules of some of the teams that have gotten in and just how heavily that was weighed,” Jones said when asked what role it played.
Now that LSU knows its season is over, the focus turns to next season, when a consensus top-10 recruiting class headlined by Baton Rouge native and McDonald’s All-American Jarrell Martin arrives on campus. Additionally, there will be speculation about whether sophomore forward and All-SEC selection Johnny O’Bryant returns for his junior season or tests the NBA draft waters.
“Our deal is we’re always about improving and getting better,” Jones said. “Right now, that’s about making sure that we’re on solid ground academically and making sure where we need to be, and we’ll continue to recruit and make sure these guys that are here get better.”
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